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Thursday, February 22, 2007

GAO Study: EPA Wants Public In Dark About Toxics

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The Bush administration is already getting heat for trying to tone down the findings of government climate scientists who study global warming. Now the GAO is out with a report that says the U.S. EPA is attempting to change disclosure regulations to reduce the availability of public information about toxic chemical releases that Americans have used track emissions for nearly 20 years. The move would cut down on data in annual Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reports, which are posted online in Ohio and several other states.

"We believe that the TRI reporting changes will likely have a significant impact on information available to the public about dozens of toxic chemicals from thousands of facilities in states and communities across the country," the GAO said, noting that a switch to a shorter form eliminates data from many sites. "First, we estimate that detailed information from more than 22,000 Form Rs could no longer be reported to the TRI if all eligible facilities choose to use Form A, affecting more than 33% of reports in California, Massachusetts and New Jersey . ."

GAO said the overall impact across the nation could "negatively impact information available to the public and efforts to protect the environment."

The full text of the GAO study is HERE , and it quotes an unnamed Ohio official who says the EPA's plan will not adversely affect information that goes to the public in this state. GAO said it was studying the issue further.

Last year's data about Ohio is HERE. The attempt to cut back on public information about toxic releases is not the only Bush administration move to limit access to environmental data. The research journal Environmental Science & Technology has been critical of moves to close EPA LIBRARIES that scientists depend on. Some of the criticism appears in this month's issue:

"Dismantled collections include the Office of Pollution, Prevention, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) library in Washington, D.C., which houses scientific and other documents about the health effects of chemicals and pesticides, and libraries in EPA Regions 5, 6, and 7. Access for the public and government employees to library materials in Regions 1, 2, 4, and 10 and at headquarters will be impaired. Leaked memos from EPA employees describe journals being tossed into recycling dumpsters and materials being stashed in boxes in an unused cafeteria.

"The loss of the OPPTS library is a serious blow to the teams of EPA scientists that must assess the safety of new chemicals within 90 days after a company notifies EPA that it plans to begin manufacturing it, says Bill Hirzy of OPPTS and an officer of EPA’s employee union."

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