From: John Heilprin, Associated Press
Published May 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Court Tells EPA to Stop Tracking Releases of Widely Used Chemical Solvent

WASHINGTON — The government can no longer require chemical makers and users to account for how much methyl ethyl ketone, a widely used ingredient in plastics, textiles and paints, is released into the environment each year.


A federal appeals court Tuesday ruled in favor of the American Chemistry Council, which had petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to remove the chemical, known as MEK, from its annual Toxic Release Inventory List.


The yearly list, which began with a 1986 community right-to-know law, tracks the several billion pounds of toxic chemicals released each year. EPA officials consider it an important tool, but not all-inclusive, in helping the public keep tabs on chemical pollution.


The trade group had argued MEK is not a toxic chemical under the law, because it doesn't cause illness or injury when absorbed into a person's body. MEK is a clear, colorless, highly flammable liquid used as a solvent in surface coatings and adhesives.


EPA has found that inhaling it irritates the eyes, nose and throat, and some animal studies have shown slight effects on nerves, breathing, liver and kidneys, plus fetal malformations.


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MEK also is used to make many other chemicals, such as those for printing and cleaning fluids, and is a natural component of many foods, including cheese and beans, the trade group says.


"It's a highly efficient and environmentally sound chemical for use in a variety of applications," Marcia Lawson, a spokeswoman for the trade group, said Tuesday.


EPA officials were still studying the court ruling and "no decisions have been made at this time," agency spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said Tuesday.


EPA acknowledged only toxic chemicals were meant to be listed, and Congress used the phrase "toxic chemical" 38 times in the relevant section of law, noted Senior Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.


"A naive observer might think that the section's sole subject is toxic chemicals. He would be right," Williams wrote for a three-judge panel. "A naive observer might also think it obvious that that was so. He would be wrong."


Williams wrote that EPA's decision to include MEK in its list "is based on an impermissible construction of the statute."


"At a minimum, the chemical must cause harm via exposure," he wrote. "Because EPA's own analysis demonstrates that MEK fails this test, EPA's denial of the council's petition to delist was improper."


Source: Associated Press


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