New Jersey industry continues to be a major source of toxic pollution. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) for 2006, 487 NJ industrial facilities released more than 22 million pounds of more than 600 different toxic substances into the workplace and community environments. Workers and plant neighbors continue to suffer from these entirely preventable chemical exposures. Federal and state chemical “right to know” laws provide valuable information about chemical emissions. However, the public needs to be more aware of the value of right-to-know laws.
Moreover, we need to go beyond defense of our right to know to win new initiatives. While public focus on right-to-know data has, over a 20-year period, pressured industry to reduce toxic releases, workers and communities need a “right to act” with expanded power to prevent hazards.
- WEC alerted the Trenton Times about asbestos dangers from the former W.R. Grace plant in Hamilton, NJ. This led the Times to run dozens of front-page articles and the NJ Attorney General to sue Grace and its executives for $1.6 billion in civil damages and to launch a criminal investigation. Legislators introduced a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for certain environmental crimes and for crimes causing widespread injury. In 2007, Governor Corzine signed this bill (P.L. 2007, C131) into law.
- WEC stopped the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from encouraging chemical and oil companies to declare “confidential” their plans for prevention of oil and chemical spills and releases during the agency’s 2007 readoption of rules for the Discharge Prevention Program.
- With labor, environmental, and community allies in the DuPont Accountability Coalition, WEC alerted communities of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) water contamination in Sayreville, West Deptford, and Penns Grove. These actions led DEP to investigate PFOA contamination around the state and to establish the strictest guidance standard for the chemical in the country. DuPont produces PFOA, which an EPA Advisory Council considers a likely carcinogen.
- Because of a WEC recommendation, the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services and DEP sponsor the “Right to Know Forum” for firefighters, EMTs, and county health officers to update them about the latest information on chemical hazards. These forums have reached thousands of emergency responders.