Controls of toxic chemicals called for Md. is said to use 100 pounds a person a year.

April 18, 1991|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

Maryland industries produce or use more than 100 pounds of toxic chemicals for every person in the state, two environmental groups said today in calling for new laws to reduce hazardous chemical usage in the workplace and in consumer products.

The groups, Maryland Public Interest Research Group and the National Environmental Law Center, estimate that state industries make or use more than 495 million pounds of toxic chemicals a year, which is at least 15 times the amount state businesses report they release into the environment or dispose of as wastes.

Spokesmen for the state Department of the Environment and for the state's chemical manufacturers said they had no way of knowing if the groups' estimates were accurate, but they said it was wrong to suggest that workers or the public were at risk from producing or using toxic chemicals simply because the amounts are large.

"We're not saying you have to wipe out all our products that are made with chemicals that are toxic," said Daniel Pontious, executive director of MaryPIRG. The two groups released their report to alert the public that it is at risk from hazardous chemicals being made and produced, not just from pollution.

Maryland manufacturers reported in 1988 releasing about 33 million pounds of toxic chemicals and metals into the environment or disposed of as waste. While state and federal pollution laws focus on protecting the public from such emissions, MaryPIRG officials said toxic chemicals could be a hazard at work or in the home as well, either from accidental spills and fires or from consumer products that leach out hazardous ingredients.

Pontious acknowledged that the groups' estimates were not precise, but he said that is because only one state, New Jersey, now requires industry to report its toxic chemical production and use. Figures reported in that state were the basis for the Maryland estimates.

Among the leading toxic chemicals used in Maryland are ammonia, chlorine, styrene, sulfuric acid and xylene, according to the environmental groups' report. Styrene can cause cancer, while exposure to the other chemicals can cause immediate and long-term health problems and harm to the environment.

MaryPIRG and the environmental law center, which is based in Boston, called for requiring full disclosure of toxic chemicals produced and used. And they seek state and federal laws to require companies to cut their use of dangerous chemicals.

Lawrence M. Ward, assistant secretary for toxics in the Maryland Department of the Environment, noted that federal occupational safety, food and drug and transportation agencies already strive to protect workers and the public from exposure to hazardous substances.

State officials are not as concerned with how many toxic chemicals are produced or used, he said, if they are stored properly and the releases into the environment are too small to endanger the public.

Louis Kistner, president of the state Chemical Industry Council and spokesman for SCM Chemicals, said manufacturers already are looking at ways to cut toxic chemical use and waste. But he also stressed that chemicals are necessary and valuable to society.

"There are products which are innocuous, harmless products, which can be produced by the combination of some fairly toxic things," such as soaps and detergents, Kistner said. "I don't foresee that you'll ever be able to totally eliminate that."

Pontious said more effort should be made to use fewer toxic chemicals in the first place.

"A lot of industries are talking about waste minimization," he said. 'But if you're just focusing on the waste, you're not getting the whole toxics picture."

Maryland's toxic diet actually is smaller than that of many other states. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the national umbrella for MaryPIRG, estimated in a companion report released today that at least 24 states produce or use more than 1 billion pounds of dangerous chemicals each year.

Overall, at least 350 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were produced or used nationwide in 1988, the report said. It urged Congress to make toxic use reduction a goal of the federal Clean Water and the Resource Conservation and Recovery acts, both of which are up for renewal this year.

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