EPA, Companies to Figure Out What Chemicals Are in Commerce

The Environmental Protection Agency and chemical companies are about to start tackling a basic problem: The agency doesn’t know exactly what industrial and consumer chemicals are in commerce.

The agency has a decades-old registry, or “inventory,” listing tens of thousands of commercial chemicals that are or have been made in, or imported into, the U.S. at some time in the past.

It knows chemical manufacturers made generally 25,000 pounds or more of some 8,700 chemicals since 2012. Chemical manufacturers gave EPA that information last year.

But how many more chemicals might be made in smaller volumes, it doesn’t know. Some of those smaller volume chemicals may be vital to making an airplane brake work. Or they might be harmful to a consumer spraying them on furniture.



So the agency -- working with chemical manufacturers, importers and processors -- will soon start figuring out exactly what chemicals have been made or used in the U.S. since 2006. They do that after the EPA publishes what’s called its final Inventory Update rule in the Federal Register.

Chemicals businesses make and use will be put on a list of chemicals active in commerce. The rest of the chemicals will be on an inactive list.

As EPA and the companies work on that list, there’s some information businesses will have to give to the agency, but which the agency can’t make public. Doing so could harm a company’s ability to stay in business. Yet EPA also has the duty to give the public access to information about chemicals in their workplaces, homes and other places. 

To balance its duty to protect a business’ proprietary information and its duty to serve the public, the chemicals law Congress overhauled last year requires the EPA to review companies confidential business information claims and decide if they’re warranted.

Richard Engler, a senior chemist with the law firm Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. and a 17-year veteran of EPA’s chemicals office, spoke during an Aug. 2 webinar that the law firm and Bloomberg BNA hosted. He offered companies tips about what they need to do while they work with the EPA to update its inventory of chemicals made in the U.S.