WHAT IS SAFETY ASSESSMENT?
How safe a chemical is in the environment depends on:
(1) how toxic it is (how much of the chemical does it take to cause an adverse health effect); and
(2) how much of it people are exposed to (who, where, and in what amounts).
When information about toxicity and exposure is available for a specific chemical, it can then be combined to provide a scientific evaluation of potential health risks. This process, called risk assessment, becomes the basis for legal and social judgments about the safety or acceptability of chemical releases. Many key laws that Congress has passed over the last 25 years to protect the public from toxic chemical risks cannot be activated if the necessary information is not available; i.e., those laws cannot provide the protection they promise.
HOW DOES SCORECARD DETERMINE WHETHER CHEMICAL RELEASES CAN BE ASSESSED FOR SAFETY?
Information about a chemical's toxicity (known as risk assessment values) and information about exposures are both needed before a scientific risk assessment of a specific chemical can be performed.
These are the basic components of chemical safety assessment. Scorecard tracks whether these types of information are publicly available for the 650 toxic chemicals or compounds included in the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory.
If a TRI chemical has publicly available risk assessment values or media quality standards, Scorecard considers it has the toxicity data required for safety assessment. If a chemical has publicly available data that describes its concentration in specific media (like air or water), Scorecard considers it has the exposure data required for safety assessment. If the relevant data for a chemical are not available, Scorecard indicates that its safety cannot be assessed.
The information needed to assess safety varies depending on whether a chemical is released to air or water (since that largely determines whether people are exposed to it via inhalation or ingestion). Scorecard evaluates safety data availability for two different Toxics Release Inventory scenarios. To assess:
Air Releases: Scorecard requires ambient air exposure data and either an inhalation cancer or noncancer risk assessment value
Water Releases: Scorecard requires water exposure data and either an ingestion cancer or noncancer risk assessment value
There are 7 TRI chemicals released to air and 6 TRI chemicals released to water which lack the risk assessment values needed for safety assessment. There are 219 TRI chemicals released to air and 173 TRI chemicals released to water which lack the exposure data needed for safety assessment.
To obtain information about the risk assessment values or exposure data available for a specific chemical, click on its name to obtain a chemical profile and review the Information Needed for Safety Assessment section.
WHAT IF A COMPANY CLAIMS ITS CHEMICAL RELEASES ARE SAFE?
Scorecard evaluates whether a safety assessment can be performed by examining whether the information that industry itself has insisted is essential for demonstrating chemical safety is publicly available. If the information is lacking, no company can offer communities a credible assurance that its environmental releases are safe. If a company makes public claims that its chemical releases are safe for the surrounding community, Scorecard will add such statements to a facility's report and provide a means for the company to provide the data needed to substantiate their safety claim.
IMPORTANT CAVEAT - IGNORANCE MAY BE UNDERSTATED
Scorecard makes generous assumptions when evaluating the availability of toxicity and exposure data that result in an understatement of the degree of ignorance about the safety of reported releases of TRI chemicals. In its assessment of data availability, Scorecard credits some risk assessment values and exposure data that federal agencies like EPA or state governments have not adopted for use in regulatory efforts to control toxic chemicals.