Off the Books II: More Secret Chemicals

Seven years later, federal toxics law is still protecting the chemical industry’s dirty secrets

May 9, 2016

Off the Books II: More Secret Chemicals : The TSCA Inventory

When TSCA was enacted in 1976, EPA proceeded to gather information about chemicals known to be in use at the time. This list, known as the TSCA inventory, includes basic information such as: the preferred chemical name; any synonyms; its molecular formula; whether it was processed by EPA’s new chemical program; and whether the chemical is regulated under TSCA. Since enactment, EPA has added chemicals to the inventory every time a new one goes into commerce. While this creates an impressive list, little has been done to track which chemicals are actually used.

EPA has failed to fulfill its statutory requirement to maintain and keep current[i] its list of chemicals in commerce. Unused or obsolete chemicals are not removed from the inventory. Over the last four decades the inventory has evolved to be just like Hotel California in the popular song by that name: “You visit any time you want but you can never leave.”

As a result, the inventory has grown into an unwieldy list of questionable value.

Many of the chemicals originally on the inventory have likely been phased out and replaced. In part because of EPA’s inaction and in part because of trade secret protections, it is nearly impossible to know which of the 85,000 chemicals now on the inventory are still being used and may be ingredients in consumer products. In 1979, after years of collecting data from manufacturers, the EPA estimated that there were 60,000 chemicals active in commerce, with 1,800 (3 percent) claimed as confidential trade secrets.[ii]

EPA announced a proposed rulemaking in 2008 to reset the inventory to include only chemicals that were in use at the time. This effort fizzled, however, and in 2010 EPA’s Director of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, told a meeting organized by the chemical industry that the agency was no longer seeking an inventory reset.[iii]

The Senate version of the pending legislation to revise TSCA would address the problem of EPA’s inaction, but the House version is silent on the issue.


[i] Toxic Substances Control Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2607(b). 1976. (emphasis added).

[ii] EPA. Toxic Substances Control Act Chemical Substances Inventory: Initial Inventory

[iii] Chemical Watch. US EPA puts TSCA Inventory Reset on the Back Burner. Apr 9, 2010. Available at