Dangerous limits

Changes to US inventory of toxic chemicals opposed

Published: Tuesday 28 February 2006

sunita dubey Arlington, usa

legislators and public interest groups are strongly opposing the proposed changes to a publicly available database on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities by certain industrial and federal facilities.

The database -- Toxics Release Inventory (tri) -- is maintained and annually updated by the us Environment Protection Agency (epa). In October 2005, epa had proposed changes under the Burden Reduction Proposed Rule.

The proposals seek to modify the current annual frequency of reporting toxic chemical releases to once in two years and exempt industries with annual toxic production less than 2,268 kilogrammes from disclosing information on their pollution volumes, waste management and treatment. They also seek to limit data collection on persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic (pbt) chemicals to those industry groups that discharge more than 226.8 kg per annum.

While 50 members of the House of Representatives have sent a letter to the epa, more than 70,000 public comments have been submitted voicing concerns that the proposed changes would weaken one of the most successful pollution control programmes in the world.

epa claims that the changes will not affect the overall toxic pollution that is being tracked at the national level. But according to National Environmental Trust (net), a non-profit organisation the changes imply that almost 4,000 industrial units will stop reporting details on release of toxic chemicals.

tri was established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, 1986, which was framed following the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984. tri's ambit was expanded by the Pollution Prevention Act, 1990 by further requiring additional reporting of data on waste management and source reduction activities.

It seems that the lessons learnt from the Bhopal incident are being forgotten, with communities once again being exposed to the risk of unknown toxic chemicals. While the proposed changes do not require Congressional approval, public outcry might force the Congress to intervene.

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