Clinton Lowers Toxic Release Limits

The public's right to know about toxic releases into the air, water or land by companies is being expanded to include the smallest amounts of highly toxic chemicals.

The National Association of Manufacturers is calling the move a "willy-nilly" approach that goes too far.

President Clinton, in his weekly radio address Oct. 30, announced that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is lowering reporting thresholds for certain persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals, effective Jan. 1, 2000. These PBTs, which include mercury, dioxin and PCBs, are subject to reporting under Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 and the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990.

"By requiring industries to tell communities how much they pollute the air and water, we empower citizens to fight back and create a powerful incentive for industry to pollute less," Clinton said.

Companies will be required to report releases of most PBTs if they use as little as 100 pounds a year. Chemicals that are highly persistent will have to be reported if releases reach 10 pounds a year. Current limits require companies to report releases only if they manufacture or process more than 25,000 pounds or use more than 10,000 pounds in a year. In the case of dioxin, an industrial product that is toxic in very low doses, companies will be required to report if they generate as little as one-10th of a gram.

EPA's final rule for 40 CFR Part 372 is based on the chemicals' carcinogenicity or other chronic human health effects and their adverse effects on the environment. This effort will establish or strengthen reporting requirements for 27 PBTs, which are especially risky because they do not easily break down, the government says.

Mark Burtschi, director of air quality for the National Association of Manufacturers, said the lower reporting threshold is a "willy-nilly" process of "ready, fire, aim."

"It's such a minuscule amount and very difficult to determine," Burtschi said of lower reporting thresholds. "These small amounts don"t present a problem to the public. What is EPA really looking for?"

Burtschi contends that an incremental reduction would be prudent, such as from the current limit of 10,000 pounds a year to 1,000 pounds, then 100 pounds. Instead, the drastic reduction will make it very hard for the government to regulate these smallest amounts of releases, he said.

EPA estimates that reporting the lower limits will cost companies an additional $72 million a year. Since the government's toxic release inventory program began 12 years ago, yearly costs have increased from $65 million to a projected $498 million in 2000, not counting the $72 million, Burtschi said.

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