Originally created 12/31/98

Public to hear more about toxic chemicals under EPA plan



WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency plans to provide the public with more information about a worrisome category of toxic chemicals that pose long-term health concerns, including cancer.

The EPA said Wednesday it will propose regulations next month requiring public disclosure of so-called persistent bioaccumulative chemicals, or PBTs, that are released from power plants, pulp and paper mills and industrial plants.

These are chemicals such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs that accumulate over long periods of time in the environment and over years of exposure can pose significant health concerns including reproductive disorders and cancer.

Under the EPA proposal, eight PBT chemicals will be added to the list of toxic substances subject to annual public reporting. The threshold for reporting will be significantly lowered for 14 other chemicals already on the list.

"This is certainly information that we've needed to have for along time," said Allison LaPlante, of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a grassroots environmental organization.

But she said that the thresholds being proposed by the EPA are still too high for many of the chemicals. Even exceedingly small amounts should be reported if released into the environment, she maintained.

But EPA officials said the new regulations, when they become final after a 60-day comment period, will provide substantially more information about the public's exposure to these chemicals.

EPA Administrator Carol Browner said the new requirements are "another major step forward to ensure that people receive the best possible picture about pollution in their communities."

Currently facilities do not have to report releases of mercury or many of the other persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals unless they process more than 25,000 pounds annually or use more than 10,000 pounds annually.

Under those requirements release data on many of the chemicals do not have to be reported at all.

But under the EPA's proposed regulation, the thresholds for reporting would be lowered for most of the chemicals to either 100 pounds or in many cases to 10 pounds, EPA officials said. In the case of PCBs data would have to be made public if more than 0.1 grams are released annually.