EPA Reporting Rollback Threatens Reproductive Health

Nearly 38 million pounds of toxic chemicals, known or suspected to cause reproductive disorders, were released by U.S. companies into the air and water according to a report released yesterday by Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG).

“These toxic pollutants are the worst of the worst and pose tangible threats to public health that must be addressed,” said Kirpal Singh, the group’s staff attorney.

However, the Toxic Pollution and Health report may be the last complete analysis of its kind since the Bush Administration drastically reduced the standards by which companies will now self-report emissions data on more than 600 toxic chemicals. Alarmingly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified the basic toxicity of only seven percent of the most frequently manufactured chemicals in the U.S.

Citing the most recently available data from the EPA’s 2004 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), the citizen activist group found that Tennessee, Texas and Illinois, respectively, ranked highest in the release of reproductive toxicants primarily due to their concentration of chemical, rubber, petroleum, and related industries. More than 70 percent of reported toxic pollution affecting reproductive health is produced by these three states alone. These emissions, in sufficient quantities, are known to cause spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, birth defects, and sterility in both men and women.

While Colorado ranked 34th in the nation for air and water pollution that impacts reproductive health, the state jumps to 13th when all hazardous land toxicants — carcinogenic, developmental, and reproductive — are considered, largely due to metal mining.

The rationale for the reporting rollback was to reduce paperwork though the National Environmental Trust disputes the Small Business Administration’s estimated cost savings of $800-1,000 per form that even the EPA believes is a wild overestimate. The agency forecasts — not without detractors among chemical industry insiders — savings of $400-800 or less than $2 per day.

Stripping away two decades of environmental policy rooted in the public’s right-to-know, the new standards lower by ten-fold the threshold for detailed reports of toxic waste to 500 pounds from the previous 5,000 pounds of tracked chemicals per year, provided that no more than 2,000 pounds is released into the air, water or land.

Additionally, the new rules exempt companies from submitting detailed reports on less than 500 pounds of bio-accumulative toxins, or those chemicals that persist in the environment and can build up in the food chain over time, such as mercury. Medical experts advise pregnant women, nursing mothers and women of child-bearing age to avoid certain kinds of fish, like shark, swordfish, tilefish or king mackerel, or to limit their consumption of tuna and locally caught fish due to potentially high levels of mercury that can effect fetal or newborn neural development.

The only pollutant that is exempted by the new rules is dioxin, a dangerous chlorine-based chemical compound known to cause birth defects, reproductive and sexual disorders in very small exposures. Dioxin became infamous during the 1978 Love Canal environmental disaster that resulted in the evacuation of the Niagara Falls, NY, neighborhood and led Congress to establish the SuperFund program to clean up abandoned toxic waste sites.

As a result of the TRI reporting rollback, more than 900 communities will no longer have access to local toxic pollution emissions and another 700 will lose half of the information that is currently available.

Outraged by the Bush Administration’s end run around the public, the Toxic Right-to-Know Protection Act (H.R. 1055 and S. 595) was introduced on February 14 to reverse the reduced reporting standards and restore access to community toxic pollution data.

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