EPA Declassifies 150 Chemical Names from Health Studies

EPA Declassifies 150 Chemical Names from Health Studies

Microscope image CC-licensed by Dr. EOS/Flickr

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declassified the names of 150 chemicals that were previously stricken from studies, revealing health and safety information on chemicals that were used in the Gulf oil spill cleanup and consumer products.

Starting with a policy shift last year, the EPA has taken a harder line against business claims of confidentiality when it comes to chemicals. The agency will no longer allow chemical names to be routinely considered confidential, and it's looking back at previous confidential business information claims.

The latest names revealed are part of a second round of study declassifications. The 104 studies involved in the latest round were not themselves classified, but the names of chemicals in them were. "That rendered the information essentially useless to the public," said Richard Denison, senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.

The chemicals from the studies include ingredients in dispersants that were used to clean up the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as chemicals in air fresheners, non-stick and stain resistant materials, fire resistant materials and nonylphenol compounds (used in some detergents).

Information on those chemicals' potential hazards are now public, and could be of particular interest to academics studying chemicals as well as downstream businesses.

"Companies that are considering using these chemicals would have more information to help guide their decision," Denison said. "There's a variety of parties that would benefit from having better and more public information on chemicals in the public domain."

When the EPA shifted its stance on confidential information, it also prodded companies to voluntarily choose to declassify information. The EPA said that the latest batch of declassified information is a mix of chemicals revealed by the EPA and voluntarily by companies, and further declassification rounds are expected as the EPA scours its backlog of confidentiality claims. 

"It's still an enormous task," Denison said.

The EPA ended up in the current state of having numerous chemical names classified because while it followed a provision in the Toxic Substances Control Act that prevents health and safety studies from being confidential, it instead allowed companies to just claim the names of chemicals were confidential business information.

"What the new administration and leadership at EPA did, they said that doesn't make sense," Denison said. The EPA has since said that chemical names cannot be claimed to be confidential except in two specific situations: when the name reveals information on how the chemical was made, or if it reveals what fraction of a mixture it makes up.

The EPA also this month released two databases to make it easier to access information on chemical toxicity and exposure.

The Toxicity Forecaster database (ToxCastDB) so far has toxicity information on 300 chemicals that have been run through the EPA's ToxCast program. And ExpoCastDB, a database of chemical exposure studies, shows the amounts of chemicals that have been detected in food, drinking water, air, dust and indoor surfaces in homes and child care centers, along with chemical levels in urine.

Microscope image CC-licensed by Dr. EOS/Flickr