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Poisoning Our Future

Section V: Recommendations

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The threat of persistent and bioaccumulative toxins is widely recognized. The International Joint Commission on Great Lakes Water Quality, upon the advice of dozens of leading scientists, has declared that “persistent toxic substances are too dangerous to the biosphere and to humans to permit their release in any quantity.” And nations from around the world are entering UN sponsored negotiations to create a global solution for the elimination of persistent organic pollutants.

At a minimum, the public, policy makers, and even industry, need complete information on the use and release of these dangerous substances. Working in the dark, we can not hope to find the solution. The 1986 Community Right to Know Act has been lauded by environmentalists, policy makers, and even industry as one of the most effective environmental laws in the U.S. Shining the public spotlight on toxic chemical releases motivates industries to find ways to reduce pollution. However, the nation’s best reporting law tells us almost nothing about the chemicals that present the greatest threat to public health and the environment. We do not have the information needed to track and promote pollution prevention.

The Clinton Administration has played a leading role in championing Right to Know expansions, but there are several major holes in the program that keep vital information from the public. And, at a time when we should be working to eliminate these substances, industries in the U.S. are fighting to stop even the reporting of their releases to the public and policy makers.

As the EPA is now considering changes to Right to Know reporting requirements for persistent and bioaccumulative substances, we are calling on them to stand strong against the pressure from industries that have been fighting the public’s Right to Know for years. There is no compelling reason to keep the public in the dark about the most dangerous substances known to science and the legacy created by their pollution.

U.S. PIRG and the National Environmental Trust are calling on the Clinton Administration and the EPA to take the critical steps needed to reduce the use and release of these dangerous substances. Specifically, the Clinton Administration and the EPA should:

1). lower Right to Know reporting thresholds to include information on all persistent or bioaccumulative toxins, and add dioxins to TRI reporting requirements;

EPA should set a single zero threshold for reporting of these extremely dangerous substances, and add dioxin to the reporting list. Exemptions for small amounts of waste generation should be revoked. The public has the right to know about the use and release of any quantity of substances that are either highly persistent or highly bioaccumulative.

2). expand Right to Know reporting to include all major industries that are sources of pollution and toxic chemical use information;

Although EPA’s 1997 facility expansion added several previously exempt industries to the reporting program, a number of polluting industries are still hidden from the public’s view. Specifically, major sources of persistent bioaccumulative toxins like medical waste incinerators are currently exempt from reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory. In addition, Right to Know reporting is missing information on toxic chemicals used in the workplace, transported through communities, and placed in consumer products. By taking a closer look at how toxic chemicals are used through every step of the process, industries can better identify ways to reduce chemical use at the source. State laws in Massachusetts and New Jersey already mandate the collection of toxic chemical use information, or “materials accounting” data. Industries in those states have reduced pollution and have found ways to streamline processes and save millions of dollars while doing so.

3). take steps to directly eliminate the use and release of substances like mercury and dioxin, including:

  • working to eliminate mercury pollution by setting strict emissions standards for mercury from power plants, and requiring increased investment in non-polluting energy efficiency, and renewable energy;

  • requiring the development and use of alternatives to major polluting practices like incinerators and industrial processes or uses of chlorine that result in the formation of dioxin, such as pulp and paper bleaching and production of PVC plastics.


april 1999

©1999 Public Interest Research Groups