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Progress Report: Community Right-to-Know

Below is an electronic version of the "Progress Report: Community Right-to-Know." The report is approximately 42K. To receive a printed version, including footnotes and graphics, send $6 per copy to:

OMB Watch
1731 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009

The report's authors are:

Paul Orum, Working Group on Community Right-to-Know
Alair MacLean, OMB Watch

The authors would like to acknowledge helpful comments from:
David W. Allen, Center for Pollution Prevention
Karl Birns, Kansas Department of Health and Environment
Andrew Comai, Citizens for a Better Environment
Blakeman Early, Sierra Club
Rick Engler, New Jersey Industrial Union Council, AFL-CIO
F. Kent Goshorn, Annenberg School of Communication
Jack Kartez, Texas A&M University
Sanford Lewis, The Good Neighbor Project
Ann Wall, North Carolina Department of Labor

Special thanks to the Bauman Foundation and the Rockefeller Family Fund for their input and for their support.



Community right-to-know laws are a proven tool for citizen empowerment and environmental protection. These laws make available, for all to see, previously inaccessible information on toxic chemical pollution from corporate files and computers. The right-to-know laws of the 1980s are clearly broadening the nation's public health and environmental policy debates. And these laws are beginning to transform public policies on toxic chemicals.

Below we examine the results, problems and future of public participation in preventing toxic pollution and chemical accidents. Our report looks at the impact of community right-to-know on seven groups affected by public access to information.

Citizens - Right-to-know improves public knowledge of toxic chemicals' health and environmental effects and encourages broader public participation in environmental protection. But the public needs more and better information, organizational support and technical skills in order to have a meaningful role in reducing chemical hazards.

Labor - Community right-to-know expanded a concept developed by labor unions to provide America's workers with information about chemical hazards in the workplace. Unions are now working to establish and guarantee affirmative rights of participation in programs to reduce workplace hazards, and for programs to support workers displaced by environmental policies.

Press - Right-to-know helps the news media investigate chemical hazards. Journalists need timely information, a meaningful context to evaluate toxic pollution and an understanding of the tools for illustrating chemical hazards.

Legislators - Lawmakers have gained valuable information to identify environmental problems, evaluate policies and develop solutions. Legislators need more comprehensive information in order to understand and establish genuine pollution prevention programs. Emergency Planners and Responders - Right-to-know provides planners and emergency response teams with a public, committee-based planning structure and with data to plan for chemical emergencies. To obtain greater public support, however, planners must fully inform the public of potential hazards. Emergency planning committees also need consistent funding, effective data management, and a clear mandate to prevent, not just plan for, chemical accidents.

Industry - Public disclosure has captured the attention of high level industrial decision makers and has strengthened the role of environmental managers within some U.S. firms. But industry's emission reduction goals are almost invariably limited to chemicals and processes already covered by right-to-know reporting. Public disclosure must include more chemicals and facilities, industrial pollution prevention data, and worst-case chemical release scenarios.

Regulators - Multi-media (land, air and water) reporting has enabled regulators to better assess the effects of regulatory policies and priorities. But opponents of further regulation are using voluntary reduction programs to avoid expanded pollution prevention programs. Regulators need chemical use data to concurrently assess risks to workers, consumers, communities and the environment, and a planning structure to reduce chemical use.

The Community Right-to-Know Act

The Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA, or SARA Title III) is one of the most far reaching in a series of laws passed in the 1980s to provide citizens with substantial new information on chemical hazards. The law represents a rare victory for citizens and the environment. A key provision, the Toxics Release Inventory, passed the House of Representatives by a one vote margin on December 10, 1985. Three basic factors helped pass EPCRA:

  1. the grassroots movement for local workplace and community right-to-know laws;
  2. the lack of useful information on facilities' toxic waste generation;
  3. the December 1984 Bhopal tragedy, in which thousands of people were poisoned, many fatally, by the sudden release of toxic gas from an Indian pesticide factory.

EPCRA has three major functions:

  1. Emergency Notification and Planning provisions require companies to disclose potential toxic hazards and ensure that local communities to plan for chemical emergencies [301-305];
  2. Community Right-To-Know provides the public with access to critical information about toxic chemical inventories held by businesses in the community [311-312];
  3. The Toxics Release Inventory requires certain large manufacturing facilities to report routine releases of some 320 listed toxic chemicals to the public and EPA [313]. For more detail, see Appendix A.

    The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) establishes the first on-line, publicly accessible computer database ever mandated by federal law for dissemination of government information. The TRI data must be augmented by currently undisclosed information on chemical use and production to track pollution prevention. The TRI data are:

    • multi-media;
    • publicly accessible;
    • chemical specific;
    • designed for data management.

    Citizens are beginning to seek equivalent data worldwide to address the international aspects of chemical contamination.

    Using the Right-to-Know

    Community right-to-know brings needed attention to critical toxic pollution problems and increases citizens' voice in environmental policy. The law provides the public with specific chemical emissions data from industrial neighbors and can be used to obtain information on the risk of sudden chemical releases. The law does not, however, provide citizens a way to prevent chemical risks. Citizens must combine right-to-know information with other - tools. - These tools have been both traditional and innovative. Citizens are using regulatory programs, direct negotiation, judicial redress, public opinion, and other means to reduce the use of toxic materials and spotlight potential chemical accidents.

    Citizen groups are:

    • Educating the public and policy-makers about toxic pollution problems and ideas for solutions by producing scores of reports;
    • Negotiating directly with industry to change industrial practices, including use of on-site inspections, `good neighbor' agreements and community tracking committees;
    • Compelling proper enforcement of existing regulations and suing to bolster compliance;
    • Advocating pollution prevention planning in state and federal toxics use reduction laws;
    • Illustrating the potential off-site consequences of sudden chemical releases; and
    • Addressing toxic hazards through local and state voter initiative petitions and laws.

    For a list of 22 specific - success stories - of citizen use of the right-to-know law, see Appendix B.

    Right-to-know broadens public participation in environmental decision making by transferring information from previously inaccessible corporate files to ordinary citizens. The information helps community groups voice their concerns and expectations of U.S. companies and to link local industrial activities to global environmental issues.

    As people become more knowledgeable and better organized, they tend to become more proactive. Although relatively few citizens exercise their right-to-know as individuals, environmental and public interest groups use the law extensively. Some individuals may be deterred by the lack of specific - tools - to reduce toxic hazards, by the absence of politically effective local organizations, by barriers to data access, or by lack of knowledge and awareness. At the same time, however, many citizens do not actively - use - TRI data, but benefit from the data through print or broadcast media. Beyond the right-to-know, citizens need more complete information, better data access, improved technical expertise and basic legal assistance. Simple regulatory programs could reduce chemical hazards, including a program to phase-out major uses of certain chemicals, such as chlorinated solvents, lead, asbestos and ozone-depleting CFCs. Citizens need the right to inspect facilities and to take soil or water samples as part of an effective - right-to-act - for public health and environmental protection. The current law excludes many significant chemicals and facilities, and overlooks an estimated 95 percent of all toxic releases. Missing too are data on chemical use and production that are necessary to measure pollution prevention progress and to ensure that companies are not shifting risks between workers, consumers, communities and the general environment. Proposed federal right-to-know more legislation would address these inadequacies. All too often, accident prevention remains stalled. Nearly a decade after the tragic Bhopal disaster, activists are just beginning to pry information on chemical hazards out of reluctant industries. Basic information on the potential harm of chemical accidents - including industry's own worst-case release scenarios - is not yet routinely made public. If this information were released, citizens could reinvigorate emergency planning.

    The right-to-know about chemical hazards in the workplace has been a consistent goal of organized labor since the early 1970s. By the mid-1980s, workers had won a basic right-to-know about workplace hazards under the federal Hazard Communication Standard (see Appendix D for a brief history).

    Early in the fight for information, labor unions built coalitions with community and environmental organizations. The combined efforts of these groups led Philadelphia to pass the nation's first community right-to-know law in 1981. By 1984, 14 states had passed similar laws. After years of delay, the Reagan Administration issued a federal Hazard Communication Standard to create uniformity among this increasing number and variety of state and local laws. By 1986, when the federal EPCRA passed, approximately 30 states and numerous localities had measures with similar components. Unions now are working to reform the nation's twenty year old Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). Advocates of reform point out that federal inspectors now visit workplaces on average only once every 84 years.

    For this reason, labor activists want to empower workers with the - right-to-act - for a safer workplace. The right-to-act includes a worker's right to inspect facilities with plant neighbors and safety experts, to refuse unsafe work, and to work for affirmative safety and health programs through joint committees with management.

    In time, joint workplace committees may prove more effective in preventing accidents than the Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC). The LEPCs do not guarantee worker participation and are not generally viewed by workers as a forum for addressing workplace hazards.

    The growing number of major chemical accidents underscores the need to give workers the power to address workplace hazards. Spurred in part by the leveraged buy-outs of the 1980s, record numbers of fires, explosions and toxic release incidents have plagued the petro-chemical industry. Insurance industry data show that eight major chemical accidents in 1989 caused over $730 million in property damage. (No government agency keeps a complete record of chemical accidents - see - Regulators - below.)

    Publication of toxics release data often creates pressure on companies to improve environmental performance. Unions can capitalize on public awareness to help protect their members. For example, TRI data revealed that the Sheldahl Company in Northfield, Minnesota, was a major emitter of methylene chloride, a suspected carcinogen. The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, which had pushed for years to limit worker exposure to the chemical, incorporated community concerns into their contract negotiations. The negotiations led the company to plan a phase-out of methylene chloride and to search for safer alternatives. Several labor unions are advocating a - Superfund for Workers - that would provide income support and educational opportunities for workers displaced by economic instability, including plants closed by product phase-outs and other environmental regulations. The proposal is loosely modelled on the GI bill that helped returning World War II soldiers reenter the work force.

    Right-to-know, especially the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), provides journalists with a valuable investigative tool. The figures help the press inform the public about toxic hazards and chemical pollution.

    Most stories fall into one of two categories: in-depth analyses of specific places or companies, or yearly overviews of TRI data. Many articles adhere to a common format, presenting the three - sides - : environmentalists, regulators and industry. As with most news stories, reporters prefer to illustrate the release data with political controversy or human drama.

    TRI challenges many reporters to use new data management tools. A preliminary review of 100 stories, all from large urban dailies, found that less than 20 percent of the reporters accessed the TRI database themselves. Often, however, citizen organizations serve as an important link to the public by interpreting the data in advocacy reports that are covered in the press.

    Many papers and some broadcast media have based investigative series on TRI data. The most effective stories put the statistical data in perspective for the reader. Reporters may discuss issues such as the health effects of selected chemicals, worker health at local plants, or the degradation and displacement of poor communities by expanding chemical facilities. Other exemplary articles probe the facts behind emissions reductions, distinguishing pollution prevention and control from - phantom reductions - (changes that occur on paper only). Reporters can also illustrate hidden hazards and vulnerable populations through techniques such as plume mapping.

    Reporters claim that TRI data have increased communication with local industry officials and plant representatives. Generally available information increases plant managers' interest in talking about toxic pollution (at least where disclosure is required by law). Journalists frequently consult industry representatives to explain production processes and interpret chemical use.

    Reporters are wary of the time lag before they can gain access to information about toxic releases. The EPA publicizes TRI data nearly one and a half years after the reporting period. (Some states make the data available more quickly.) Stories about industrial performance must take into account any intervening changes in plant operations.

    Citizens reading or watching the news often want to know about the personal risk of chemical releases. Journalists are called upon to provide health data and to put the TRI numbers in context. But the limitations in TRI data and the inherent uncertainty of risk assessment make this difficult. Reporters need more information about health and environmental effects, but may be more effective explaining emissions in terms of efforts, or lack thereof, to prevent or control pollution.

    Right-to-know information reveals the success or failure of environmental laws. The information also helps legislators understand social and environmental patterns, like the disproportionate toxic burden borne by low income and minority communities.

    Legislators have used the TRI to identify unaddressed environmental hazards. For example, federal lawmakers learned, through TRI data, that the nation's Clean Air Act toxics control program was not working. Of the top 25 TRI reported chemicals released to air, only two were regulated by the Clean Air Act nearly two decades after the law was first passed.

    Legislators passed EPCRA in part to improve chemical emergency planning. Though implementation of federal law's emergency planning provisions is uneven at best, lawmakers are developing some new approaches to chemical accidents. A community in the heart of California's Silicon Valley adopted a strict Toxic Gas ordinance. Legislators in New Jersey debated (and recently defeated) legislation empowering citizens and workers to inspect factories for workplace and environmental hazards. And federal lawmakers created a Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to investigate and report publicly on the most serious chemical accidents.

    At least three states (New Jersey, Delaware and California) require chemical companies to prepare risk management and safety plans. In 1990, amendments to the Clean Air Act ordered manufacturers to develop risk management plans that include full disclosure of potential off-site consequences of chemical leaks, gas clouds and explosions. The requirement effectively shifts the initial emergency planning burden from the mostly volunteer Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) to industry.

    Federal community right-to-know provisions, however, have been a mixed blessing at the local level. Prior to passage of the federal law, 12 states had reporting thresholds that were more stringent than the subsequent federal standard. EPCRA effectively froze national reporting levels and thereby diffused momentum to require more complete reporting of chemical stockpiles. Since 1986, no state has established chemical inventory reporting thresholds that are more stringent than federal law. Many state legislatures have simply adopted federal guidelines.

    The law's most controversial element - TRI reporting - has arguably had the greatest impact. TRI is spurring legislative interest in pollution prevention as a means to address mounting toxic pollution and waste disposal problems. At least 15 states have passed diverse prevention laws, the best of which focus on cutting toxic material inputs rather than on controlling toxic waste. A report by the National Environmental Law Center and the Center for Policy Alternatives rated 10 of these laws, finding a wide array of preventive and non-preventive elements (see box, page 11).

    While enormously successful, TRI data alone cannot track industry's progress toward preventing pollution. The federal Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 expands TRI, adding reporting requirements for source reduction (a form of pollution prevention) and also for recycling. Although important, these data are still insufficient to fully assess pollution prevention progress (see Appendix C). Further, the law's Congressional sponsors have accused the White House Office of Management and Budget of obstructing implementation of the Act.

    Congress is now considering legislation to add more chemicals, facilities and types of data to current TRI reporting. A version of this right-to-know more legislation passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on April 30, 1992. The measure requires companies to explore ways to voluntarily cut toxic chemical use. The proposals' detailed information on chemical use would substantially improve data for tracking pollution prevention. Emergency Planners and Responders

    EPCRA has only begun to improve the emergency planning process. Fire fighters, police and other emergency planners and responders often still lack the information, communication, oversight and public support that could reduce chemical hazards and prevent chemical accidents.

    EPCRA establishes a committee structure to plan for chemical emergencies, including a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) in each state, and some 4,000 Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC). Implementation of this planning structure has been uneven in terms of district size, emergency planning activity, data management, LEPC membership, and public outreach. Nonetheless, EPCRA emergency planning has generally:

    • improved communication among emergency response personnel, and some facility operators;
    • failed to engage LEPCs in active risk communication to inform the public about potential chemical accidents;
    • increased recognition of the need for adequate emergency response training and planning;
    • caused the movement of chemical inventory information into the hands of fire fighters;
    • challenged LEPCs and fire departments to establish or improve data management systems;
    • led to limited hazard reduction and accident prevention.

    Prior to EPCRA, local emergency planning was often based in a narrow, civil defense-oriented mode, from which a broader public was largely excluded. The law was intended to help shift the focus of emergency planning to consider all hazards and include all citizens. EPCRA recognized nationally - for the first time - the benefits of community participation in emergency planning. The evolution to committee based planning has not been automatic and is far from complete.

    Some basic structural shortcomings hinder the program. The law does not explicitly advocate chemical accident prevention. Corporate executives can keep their worst-case scenarios secret. And, in general, LEPCs have not actively communicated risk.

    People therefore rarely obtain a graphic picture of potential chemical hazards in the community. Thus uninformed, citizens do not appreciate the need for emergency planning and prevention. This is the - Catch-22 - that has dogged the development of committee-based planning across the country. While LEPCs are empowered to request the information they need from a facility for emergency planning, few have made such requests.

    Lack of funding for LEPCs also hinders progress. There is no general federal support. And, in the 32 states that lack local funding, planners must rely on donations of equipment to do their jobs.

    Federal legislators did not clearly define the role of worker, neighborhood, tenant, environmental, and other community and public interest groups in emergency planning. Facility representatives and professional emergency responders tend to dominate the planning process. Activists often find LEPCs unresponsive, or may be deliberately excluded.

    Fire fighters and other first responders need up to date information about chemicals used at local facilities, including building maps indicating chemical inventories. Deaths and injuries from hidden chemical hazards, both acute and chronic, are common. EPCRA begins to transfer such information to LEPCs and local fire departments. The reporting requirements in turn raise new issues of how to manage, update and access the information, particularly for volunteer fire departments with few resources.

    Many LEPCs and fire departments have been forced to `reinvent the wheel' on data management. The resulting lack of data integration hinders state level program coordination. At least 13 states use CAMEO - Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations - to organize response information. CAMEO can accommodate information on chemicals stockpiled at local facilities, and features hazard analysis, air plume mapping and community risk analysis. EPA does not require companies to report many common explosives and flammables for emergency planning purposes. A well known 1988 Kansas City, Missouri, explosion involved one of these un-planned for substances, ammonium nitrate, killing six fire fighters. Listing such chemicals for emergency planning would improve fire fighters' recognition of hazards and response to emergencies. Industry

    Right-to-know reporting can alter consistent patterns of denial about industrial toxic pollution, but tends to do so only for hazards and emissions specifically covered by law. Prior to 1980, industry routinely denied worker and union requests for information about workplace use of toxic chemicals. And prior to the TRI, industry often denied - or didn't know - the extent of toxic releases. Industry representatives sharply questioned pre-TRI estimates by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) that chemical companies were releasing 85 million pounds of toxic chemicals to the air each year. TRI showed the real figure to be at least several billion pounds, and many large companies began to look for ways (whether real or - on paper - ) to cut emissions.

    Now, corporate executives tout dramatic emissions reduction goals, and reporting year-to-year reductions is a trademark of industrial public relations. Reduction goals, however, are almost invariably limited to chemicals and emissions already covered by right-to-know.

    Clearly, public exposure can get the attention of top corporate managers. On the eve of the first national release of TRI data (for 1987), Monsanto Corp. went public with its own release data and a - preemptive - pledge: to reduce by 90 percent the company's worldwide toxic emissions to air by 1992. Since that time, many major corporations have joined the rush to set reduction goals (see box below).

    But what do the reduction goals mean? Reported reductions often result from - paper - changes. Further, reduced emissions can mask continued exposures to workers, consumers, future generations, or the environment.

    Independent reviews find few - real - reductions. A Citizens Fund survey revealed that only 13 of the top 50 facilities reporting reductions between 1988 and 1989 could point to specific efforts to control pollutants or reduce chemical use. Other reports, notably the National Wildlife Federation's - Phantom Reductions: Tracking Toxic Trends, - have had similar findings.

    The Chemical Manufacturers Association's (CMA) multi-million dollar - Responsible Care - campaign touts the message - don't trust us, track us. - The public relations effort supports the chemical industry's drive to improve its dismal public image and to ward off regulation. CMA lobbyists oppose proposed - right-to-know more - legislation that would enable citizens and regulators to track industrial performance. Further, chemical companies have filed nearly 50 petitions to take chemicals off the right-to-know list, while none have petitioned to add any chemical to the list.

    As mentioned above, the right-to-know program does not require companies to release their own hazard assessments. Companies across the country have spent millions to assess hazards, often for insurance purposes. While the TRI raises the visibility of routine toxic pollution, it fails to account for the potential of sudden, Bhopal-type releases. To fill the gap, local citizens have begun to form - tracking committees - that take up CMA's - track us - challenge by calling for additional documents. These include: worst-case accident scenarios, safety audits, historical accident records, toxics use reduction plans, and accident risk reduction plans.

    Right-to-know reporting provides the same information to government regulators as to the public. Regulators must therefore consider public perception and involvement in environmental policy-making. As Congress debated the future scope of right-to-know in 1986, then-EPA Administrator Lee Thomas actively opposed the creation of a release inventory. Now, regulators see that public awareness builds constituencies for their programs. EPA Administrator Bill Reilly has written that - The impact of TRI has far exceeded our expectations as a tool for improving environmental management. -

    Nonetheless, many regulatory agencies have only reluctantly recognized the value of public involvement - or even the involvement of other agencies. Further, government agencies know too little about the industries they are supposed to regulate. A Centers for Disease Control review of 587 accidents involving deaths or injuries found appallingly incomplete data: only one percent appeared in all of the nation's three largest systems for monitoring such incidents.

    Further, TRI-based voluntary programs have been used to stall regulation. The U.S. EPA's - 33/50 Project - (originally the Industrial Toxics Project) asks companies to voluntarily reduce emissions of 17 TRI chemicals 33 percent by 1992 and 50 percent by 1995. Industry and government representatives have already argued that mandatory pollution prevention initiatives will interfere with this voluntary program. In this vein, Administrator Reilly testified against planning provisions for voluntary toxics use reduction in proposed right-to-know more legislation.

    Public access to pollution data in effect pressures regulators to share their monitoring role with citizens. For example, citizens have used EPCRA's citizen suit provisions to enforce the law and to negotiate pollution prevention agreements directly with companies. EPA at first used its authority to preempt such suits, but later acquiesced to the right of citizens to help enforce the law to augment the agency's own scarce resources. (EPCRA places a heavy enforcement burden on EPA; at least one-third of covered facilities have failed to report as required.) In a further development, however, the Department of Justice has threatened to weaken citizens right to sue environmental lawbreakers.

    A June 1991 General Accounting Office (GAO) report to Congress recommended that EPA look for ways to include more sources of toxic pollution in TRI. In a preliminary review, EPA identified some 530 toxic chemicals that are regulated under other environmental laws but are not on the right-to-know list, as well as industries that could be added to the program.

    The GAO report also recommended that EPA improve enforcement and verify more emissions data. Unfortunately, EPA does not have specific authority under EPCRA to inspect facilities, but must rely on inspection authorities granted under other statutes. In addition, data that could aid in identifying nonreporting facilities are, by law, regulation or policy, not ordinarily available to SERCs, LEPCs, or EPA.

    TRI represented an important breakthrough in environmental policy by collecting accessible - multi-media - (air, land and water) data on toxic releases. Other environmental laws, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, collect data separately in incompatible formats. Multi-media data reduce institutional barriers to pollution prevention by, for example, making possible multi-media permit writing. For the same reason, regulators need data on chemical use and production to concurrently address toxic hazards to workers, consumers, communities and the general environment.

    Based on experience, Congress gave EPA very little discretion in implementing EPCRA. EPA has nonetheless set weak standards where the law provides regulatory discretion. As noted above, the agency established a 10,000 pound threshold below which facilities are not required to automatically report stockpiles of most chemicals. In setting the threshold, the agency considered only emergency planning, ignoring many other potential uses of the data.

    EPA is already showing signs of balking at Congressional mandates to require worst-case accident scenarios from industry. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, for example, require EPA to review the hazards of hydrofluoric acid, including - worst-case accidental releases - . In a draft version of the study, however, EPA substituted small - credible-case - spills for the - worst-case - models called for by law. EPA's avoidance of worst-case scenarios may lead to failure to promulgate rules requiring such assessments from industry.


    Citizens need more complete information, better data access, improved technical expertise and basic legal assistance. Citizens need the right to inspect facilities and to take soil or water samples as part of an effective - right-to-act - for public health and environmental protection.

    Workers need the - right-to-act - for a safer workplace, including the right to inspect facilities accompanies by plant neighbors and safety experts, and to work for affirmative safety and health protection through joint committees with management.

    Reporters need contextual and health information to interpret toxic releases and changes in yearly reports. The media need knowledge of plume mapping and other techniques used to illustrate hidden hazards and potentially vulnerable communities.

    Congress should add more chemicals, facilities and types of information - including information on chemical use and production - to current toxics release inventory reporting. Congress and state legislatures should develop pollution prevention planning programs to reduce toxic chemical use.

    Emergency Planners and Responders
    Planners and emergency response teams need a clear mandate for prevention, effective data management, the backing of a fully informed public, and federal funding to support their expanded role.

    Industry should live up to its own standard: - don't trust us, track us. - Publicly accessible tracking data should include worst-case accident scenarios, safety audits, historical accident records, and toxics use and accident risk reduction plans. Chemicals and processes not covered by right-to-know should be included.

    Regulators should require worst-case accident scenarios from industry. They should establish multi-media permitting, and support TRI expansion and use reduction planning, including a program for phasing-out major uses of certain persistent toxic chemicals.

    Appendix A: Major Provisions of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA).

    Emergency Notification and Planning [301-305]

    Citizens can participate in local chemical hazard planning. The law establishes an infrastructure for committee-based emergency planning. Each state must set up a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC), which is responsible for establishing and coordinating Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC).

    The committees are established for fact finding, evaluating hazards, increasing public safety, and planning for and preventing chemical accidents. LEPCs must develop a local emergency plan, including nine basic elements, based primarily on information provided by facilities that use certain listed Extremely Hazardous Substances (EHS).

    Membership on the LEPC must represent at least 14 distinct groups, including: elected State and local officials; law enforcement, civil defense, firefighting, first aid, health, local environmental, hospital, and transportation personnel; broadcast and print media; community groups; and owners and operators of facilities. Any person may petition the SERC to modify the membership of an LEPC.

    Covered facilities must immediately report emergency releases of certain chemicals to the SERC and LEPC if the release exceeds a reportable quantity (RQ). Emergency notification is the only section of EPCRA that does not automatically exempt transportation. The law also provides funding to train emergency response personnel and review emergency systems.

    Community Right-to-Know [311-312]

    People can find out what chemicals businesses are using in the community.

    There are two basic community right-to-know reporting requirements. First, facilities must report chemicals held on-site to the SERC, LEPC and local fire department. This requirement covers hazardous chemicals specified under the Occupational Health and Safety Act --chemicals for which employers must maintain Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Upon request by any person, the LEPC must obtain and provide copies of MSDSs or lists, if the facility uses more than 10,000 pounds of the chemical at any one time. Lower thresholds apply for certain Extremely Hazardous Substances (EHS).

    Second, companies that submit MSDSs or lists are also required to file more detailed chemical inventory information. The inventory form includes the amount of chemical held on-site (in ranges) and its general location. Public requests are limited to discretionary provision of information if less than 10,000 pounds of the chemical is held on-site at any one time (except for EHSs). The LEPC or SERC must respond to written requests for inventory data within 45 days.

    Toxics Release Inventory [313]

    Citizens can learn about toxic releases from large manufacturing facilities.

    EPCRA requires large manufacturing facilities to file annual reports on releases and transfers of some 320 toxic chemicals in wastes. This multi-media reporting includes information on releases to air, land, surface water, or deep-injection wells, as well as transfers to sewers, treatment or disposal. The reports are collected by states and EPA and disseminated through a variety of means, including the first publicly accessible, on-line computer database ever mandated by a federal law. The data are collectively known as the - Toxics Release Inventory - (TRI).

    Under TRI, only facilities that meet certain criteria must report annual releases. The facility must:

    • be in manufacturing Standard Industrial Classifications (SIC codes) 20-39;
    • employ ten or more full time workers;
    • manufacture, process or import over 25,000 pounds or otherwise use over 10,000 pounds of a listed right-to-know chemical in a calendar year.

    Other Notable Provisions [321-329]

    The federal right-to-know act:

    • is non-preemptive of state or local law [321]
    • protects trade secrets [322]
    • affords trade secret exceptions to medical personnel [323]
    • guarantees public access to plans, reports and forms [324]
    • provides substantial penalties for non-compliance [325]
    • permits citizen suits to enforce the law [326]
    • exempts transportation (except emergency notification) [327]
    • omits federal facilities [329(7)]

    Appendix B: Citizen Use of Right-to-Know

    Listed on page 22 are 22 - success stories - from two - Making the Difference - reports published by the Center for Policy Alternatives and the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know.

    Appendix C: Evolution of Community Right-to-Know Data

    Appendix D: Development of the Hazard Communication Standard

    The right-to-know about chemical hazards in the workplace has been a long term goal of organized labor. Many unions, concerned about workplace health and safety, appointed health and safety staff in the 1970s, and successfully bargained for contract language guaranteeing access to chemical information. The Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers pioneered use of arbitration procedures under the National Labor Relations Act to force recalcitrant employers to reveal hazard information.

    Under President Carter, labor won the right to exposure data and medical records, where they existed. The Carter Administration also proposed standards under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) for chemical identification and labeling in the workplace. The Reagan Administration immediately withdrew the proposal upon taking office. Right-to-know advocacy shifted to the local and state level, however, and an increasing number of state and local laws led industry to recognize the need for one national standard. At industry's urging, the Reagan Administration revived the federal role by issuing a Hazard Communication Standard.

    The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard requires employers to inform employees about hazardous chemicals in the workplace. It includes requirements for 1) chemical manufacturer's to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce; 2) readily accessible Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) with chemical toxicity data; 3) container labeling; 4) employee training; and 5) a written - hazard communication program - that includes a list of all hazardous chemicals used in the workplace.

    The standard, which initially only protected workers in the manufacturing sector, was broadened by litigation to cover all private sector workplaces. Federal community right-to-know then caused the transfer of much workplace, for example, MSDSs, information to the community, for example, local fire departments. MSDS, however, are often incomplete, lack environmental effects data and have no - plain language - requirement. There is no national standard for the MSDSs, creating disparities from company to company in terms of content.

    Despite its weaknesses, the standard is considered a major victory for workers and the right-to-know movement. Hazard communication is OSHA's most frequently violated standard, however, indicating a need for stronger OSHA enforcement overall. Also needed is annual refresher training for workers; a facility that lacks an effective hazard communication program poses more risk to its workers, the community, and the environment.

    The Hazard Communication Standard also preempts stronger state regulations that serve - only - a worker protection purpose. Nonetheless, while preemption probably discouraged labor-community coalition building around right-to-know, such coalitions are still active on toxics use reduction and right-to-act.

    Source: RTK Net, Washington, DC

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