As I’ve reported before in this blog, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as a rule, allows companies to keep new information about chemicals they use in their products a secret from the public. This includes compounds and additives that have been shown to cause cancer, respiratory problems and immune reactions. This boils down to a conspiracy of sorts, whereby the EPA and the companies they protect lie to the American people.
In a recent investigation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper examined more than 2,000 filings in the EPA’s registry of dangerous chemicals for the past three years. In more than half the cases, the EPA was shown to have agreed to keep the chemical name a secret. In hundreds of other cases, it allowed the company filing the report to keep its name and address confidential.
This is in despite of a federal law requiring public notice of any new information through the EPA’s program that is supposed to monitor chemicals that pose substantial risk. The whole idea of this enforced program is to warn the public of newfound dangers. So what they are doing is illegal and dangerous to all of us! Once again, money trumps concern over public safety. In fact, according to the regulations, the The EPA is supposed to allow confidentiality only “under very limited circumstances.”
What this amounts to is wide spread public exposure to dangerous chemicals that can maim, disable and kill. This has been shown endless times in the studies of popular chemicals at use for various industrial purposes. The idea behind the rules is that public safety should override the financial concerns of manufacturers and developers. In other words, just because it might extend shelf life or make a product pretty, they are not allowed to add Cyanide. Point made?
According to the environmentalists, this practice of blacking out information puts the public and the planet in grave danger. As well, legal experts are pointing out that this “sanitizing” of company secrets violates the agency’s own laws. Which tells me that their “laws” are simply smokescreens. They like to look good in the eyes of the public while they are secretly loading our Lemonade with poison.
According to the Journal Sentinal’s investigation, Section 14 of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the foundation for all the EPA’s toxic and chemical regulations, stipulates that chemical producers may not be granted confidentiality when it comes to health and safety data. The newspaper’s findings are just the latest example of how the EPA consistently puts the interests of business ahead of the needs of the public. Over the past year or so, this newspaper has been reporting on various EPA programs that have bent over under corporate pressure. This not only frustrates environmentalists and safety advocates, it destroys the entire mission of the EPA, which was initially established to protect the public.
Because of their original mission, the EPA was granted the authority to fine companies that fail to fully disclose information about dangerous chemicals. Occasionally, it has done so. But critics say the program has been allowed to flounder, and the agency rarely challenges a company’s request for confidentiality.
In the agency’s defense, this was largely the fault of the previous administration. They basically starved the EPA for funding and made efforts to cripple it’s mission, in their overall effort to favor business over the public. The Bush Administration had an ideology that did not allow for restrictions or oversight on business, the results of which we see now all around us.
The EPA was created over 30 years ago to be a watchdog for dangerous chemicals. The law requires companies to that make chemicals to submit any information about potential hazards in their products to the EPA for consideration. And the EPA, as the watchdog it was created to be, was supposed to disseminate this information as a safeguard for the public, who could then choose not to purchase risky products. Of course, the public is sensitive to the issues and, as it has been proven time and again, will simply stop buying products they are afraid of. Witness the demise of many companies who were later revealed to maim or kill with their products.
This public outcry has led to corporate “sanitizing” of safety information to protect their industry from public rejection. They have figured out how to twist and turn the loopholes in the law in their favor and to our detriment. By law, companies can claim “confidentiality” if they fear that public disclosure will reveal trade secrets. They have to answer a short list of 14 questions, including specifics on why disclosing the information would harm the company. EPA administrators then decide which ones are granted confidentiality.
Confidentiality was not meant to hide the dangers of various products. This is just what the companies have managed to use it for. In their investigation, the Journal Sentinel found that large information gaps remain in the overall process. More than half of the 32 submissions for March 2004, for example, are still missing information necessary for the public to connect the name of the chemical with the information submitted. Clever.
Still, some have no information at all.
The newspaper gives examples. In one EPA report, posted by an unnamed company about an unnamed chemical, testing shows that if the substance is inhaled, it produces “foamy macrophages” or diseased cells, in the lungs of rats. The report also indicates the chemical may cause pulmonary fibrosis – a deadly and irreversible disease in people. But, according to the investigators, there is no way to know if this is a chemical coming out of a smokestack in some town or a concern for workers at a factory. The write-up does not say where the chemical is produced or used. Nor is there any indication in the description of what this chemical is or how it works.
This is only one small example but it duplicates over and over again. The newspaper gives a lot more examples than I will here. If you go to the link for the paper above you can search for the series of articles on this matter and investigate it more fully.
My concern is the mishandling of laws and regulations as it regards the environment and public health. The public is, once again, being denied critical information on chemicals in their purchases and environmental hazards that affect the world around them. It is downright evil, if you ask me. But then I’m a activist and I give a shit.
The real embarrassment for me is when I go to the EPA’s own Web site and read the garbage about how their studies, letters and accident reports are intended to be viewed by the public so citizens can “understand potential human health and environmental risks associated with exposure to chemical substances.” What a load. Yes, they post a bunch of reports on the site, so many in fact that few people have the time to read it all. But even if you did, if you could stomach all that crap, you would find that a great deal of it is redacted. So much for openness and honesty.
In their investigation, the Milwaukee Journal cornered a spokesman and asked him about this. His name is Kemery and he could not say exactly who or how many people decide what information is allowed to be kept confidential! Nor did he know how many claims of confidentiality have been submitted and how many were granted! I don’t know about you grunts out there, but if this were my job, I’d be walking. Who do they work for, after all? And what is their job? Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot. They work for big business and their job is to hide the truth. In that regards, they are working hard.
According to the newspaper, “The Environmental Working Group, a watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., reports that less than 1% of the EPA’s enforcement and compliance budget is spent on the Toxic Substances Control Act. Renee Sharpe, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, spent more than a year trying to get information from the EPA about some of the chemicals under the program, only to be denied at every turn.” And then they quoted Ms. Sharpe as saying, “It’s pretty outrageous, isn’t it?” And my retort: YES!
It is amazing to me that the EPA spends so much time and energy advising companies on how to keep information confidential and at the same time, avoiding helping consumers. They don’t seem to be at all concerned that some company (or many) may be dumping poison into consumer products and endangering the American people! I find this outrageous and if they don’t get their act together pronto, they need to be dismantled. This is obviously a waste of our taxpayer dollars and another example of corporate welfare. Why are we paying to protect our enemies? And that’s what business is lining up to be.. an enemy to public interests.
Another thing about the EPA that bugs me is their website. Not only is it hard to navigate but if you’re there to read these reports, as deep and complicated as they are, you will have a damn hard time finding them. You can’t just look up a chemical by it’s name or even by the company that makes it! You just have to shuffle through endless filings, month after month after month, in the hopes of finding the chemical or company you’re looking for. This is another effort at secrecy and inaccessibility if you ask me. There is no excuse for this. I am a low rate web developer and publisher and I could come up with a database that works better than the one they have. And they are the Government! But, again, I must defer to the fact that the Bush Administration did not fund them and so perhaps they had to make do.
Also there have been no updates on the site and where there are, there are huge gaps in reporting. For instance, there are no current chemical reports. The newest ones are years old. If this pisses you off like it does me, then maybe you can take a moment to do something about it! Go to the site and click on the “contact” link and write them a letter of complaint. Another action you could take is to go on your local reps website and send them a note asking them to work for funding the EPA. The laws are there, we don’t need more of those, we just need some money going to the right programs. This is important because the EPA has basically gone unfunded since Jimmy Carter left office. Currently, the stimulus bill includes funding for environmental measures within the EPA. Just take a moment to write the President and ask that he make sure this includes chemical oversight. For the sake of tomorrow and the safety of our kids.