Last night I had the privilege of sitting in on a Toxic Release Inventory, and my Right To Know (myRTK) training session in Grand Island. I would like to thank my friend, Melanie, and her Clean Air Coalition co-worker Rebecca, for holding that training. The information will be very helpful in the future. Too many people are unaware of just how ubiquitous dangerous chemicals are, and how much of a threat they pose. They know even less how to keep track of them. That is where this training came in.
The myRTK web application lets you search your area for companies and organizations that may deal with such chemicals. It lets you know if those companies must report to the Toxic Release Inventory, and if they do, how compliant they have been, along with the chemicals they use/manufacture, and what the effects those chemicals may have. At this time there are over six hundred chemicals on the TRI list. Companies must apply for permits if their emissions go beyond a certain amount. It is not a perfect solution, but it helps, a lot.
It could help more though. I am glad that we have this system in place, but we need something stronger. As it stands the EPA is way overworked in this arena. New York and New Jersey share two EPA staffers. Given the amount of industry, and in those two states particularly chemically intensive industries, that is woefully inadequate. Furthermore companies are trusted to self-report and that we still do not have a comprehensive list of toxins for the TRI. More are being added all the time, but not until they have already been used. By then, the potential damage has been done.
That is why I would like to see policy put into place that no chemical can be used until its risks have been assessed and it has been placed, if necessary, on the TRI list. A small fee per pound of use, regardless of the size of the company, can be charged for known toxins, and the funds raised used to expedite the research and the data basing required. This way we can start catching up without hindering industry unduly. The fees for permits should be made higher, and fines for penalties raised even more than that. Again, the money could be used to investigate how to mitigate the harm, maybe even prevent it altogether.
There will be some that say this is putting an unfair burden on corporations, though I always find those arguments difficult to swallow. They will say we should not blame the companies for wanting to make a profit. I quite agree. That is the function of business (though again, I am willing to address the idea that capitalism itself is not a necessity, and perhaps an evil.) That said, our government should protect all of us, not just business. Indeed, once again I feel the need to remind you that the function of government is to protect the weak from the strong. Business is, of course, going to get away with all they can, which is why we are obliged to make sure they are not getting away with too much.
The chemicals we are talking about have the potential to cause unbelievable ecological and public health disasters. We have seen communities destroyed by oil spills and the release of caustic chemicals in industrial accidents. We have seen towns with ridiculously high rates of cancer, MS, and asthma. We have an obligation to protect ourselves. Fortunately we have at least one tool to do so, and we need to make sure we have others. Call your Congressional Representatives and demand greater oversight of industry, or the next village ruined by unchecked “progress” could be yours.
- Using information disclosure to achieve policy goals: Toxics release inventory & shale gas fracking (phlibraryres.wordpress.com)
- Toxics Release Inventory: TRI data (pierceprairiepost.com)
- OSHA initiating hazmat inspection program in Nebraska (journalstar.com)
- The West Texas tragedy: Can oversights lead to an overhaul? (mysafetysign.com)