Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#135 - EPA Hangs Out Dirty Laundry Of 19,278 Industrial Polluters, 26-Jun-1989

Citizens fighting toxics received a fabulous gift from Uncle Sam last
week--an amazing database of information about toxic chemicals being
dumped into the environment by 19,278 manufacturing companies. It's
real, it's available, and it works. It's called the TRI (toxic release
inventory) database, and it's an enormous arsenal of weapons and tools,
just begging to be used against your favorite polluter.

Citizens now have a huge reservoir of facts at their command--facts
reported by the companies themselves about the toxic chemicals they are
dumping into the air, the water, and the soil, even including the names
of the waste haulers they are sending their wastes to.

Suddenly Uncle Sam has hung the dirty laundry of 19,278 companies out
where everyone can see it. The database contains information on a list
of 309 individual chemicals, each of them selected for inclusion on the
list because it is particularly nasty (carcinogenic, mutagenic or
teratogenic). Therefore, when a company admits that they're dumping
even ONE of these chemicals into the air or water in your community,
you're got them on the defensive. Now it's up to them to explain (if
they can) why dumping cancer-causing chemicals into human communities
makes sense, why you and your neighbors should continue to put up with

"Anyone who has to dump cancer-causing chemicals into our town just to
make a living is mismanaging their resources," you can say. "We simply
want you to stop." Then you can mount a campaign to force them to
reduce their wastes. The goal is simple: zero discharge before the end
of this century. America, toxics-free by 2000!

For two centuries, industry has been in control because citizens
couldn't get the goods on them. You knew by looking at those smoke
stacks and discharge pipes that something was very wrong, but you
didn't know what. Now that dark veil of secrecy begins to lift. Light
begins to shine.

A new kind of community organizing is suddenly now possible. Groups
with common interests can find each other and begin to work together--
citizens fighting Waste Generator A in central Ohio can now link up
with citizens fighting Waste Processor B in central Illinois because
both towns are being polluted by Waste Generator A. Citizens fighting a
toxic waste dump or a hazardous waste incinerator can get a list of
major customers sending wastes to their town, and can organize a
campaign to discourage customers from shipping toxics into their
community. It could ruin the local Waste Processor's business, or, at
the very least, put heat on that Waste Processor from every corner of
the nation, roasting them slowly on a spit of publicity and shame.

What you can do

In your own town, you get the facts about toxic emissions from the big
plant across the river. Then you write up a short report (which we call
a Waste Audit Report), you print up a few hundred copies, hold a press
conference, and now your favorite polluter REALLY on the defensive. He
(or she) will have to explain why it's "smart management" to dump
hundreds or thousands of pounds of supremely nasty chemicals into a
human community--why dumping carcinogens into the air and water is good
for business, good for children, good for kittens and bunny rabbits.
This is hard to explain without looking silly or guilty or worse.

Now you're in a position to knock on the Plant Manager's door and ask
for a negotiating session. What you want is entirely reasonable: you
want a waste reduction plan with specific target dates and measurable
milestones along the way. You want regular progress reports from the
polluter, you want a firm commitment that the goal is zero discharge by
a particular date. You want no BS.

You've told the press that they can expect to hear from you next year
because you're going to be producing a Waste Audit Report on your
favorite polluter every spring, when the new federal data becomes

Meanwhile, you've started rummaging around in the federal database for
other companies in the same business as your favorite polluter. You
find several, and you notice they are reporting different chemicals and
different amounts of similar chemicals. You call the Citizens
Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste (CCHW) in Arlington, VA [703/276-
7070], they put you in touch with citizens active in the home
communities of those other polluters, you call them up and enlist their
help. You learn what pressure tactics they're finding effective. You
learn that management in another plant across the state has initiated a
new process to make Widget X with far fewer toxic wastes. Now, armed
with your new knowledge, you ask for another meeting with your favorite
polluter and you ask why he or she can't adopt this new technology and
spare your community the burden of toxic dumping. Suddenly, you find
that the role of local government (which so often stands between the
polluters and the victims of pollution, protecting the polluters from
our wrath) has diminished, that you've started attacking the polluters
DIRECTLY without local government being able to run interference.
You're demanding the right to inspect plants yourself, you're working
directly with representatives of labor, helping them get their health
and safety demands met in return for inside information, and you're
forcing management to make commitments to waste reduction, with
specific goals tied to specific dates. You have advanced beyond the
right to KNOW; you have asserted the right to ACT!

This is not fantasy. This is real. People are doing this today. To
learn how to get access to the TRI database (or how to get paper copies
of the right-to-know data through the mail) and how to do a Waste Audit
Report on your favorite polluter, get the CITIZEN'S TOXIC WASTE AUDIT
MANUAL (76 pgs.), produced by Ben Gordon of Greenpeace in collaboration
with us. It's available free from Greenpeace U.S.A. Toxics Campaign,
1017 W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60607 (but they would really
appreciate a $5.00 donation). Without even blushing, we are prepared to
say that this is a crackerjack manual describing how to use federal
"right to know" information, step by step. To learn more about getting
through the front gate to inspect your local polluter's facility, get
NEIGHBORHOOD INSPECTION (39 pgs.), available for $5.50 from the
National Toxics Campaign, 29 Temple Place, Boston, MA 02111; phone
(617) 482-1477. After you locate those other polluters across the state
or across the nation who are in the same business as your local
polluter, and you want to establish a network of citizen groups so you
can all work together toward your common goal, you will of course want
to contact network headquarters in Arlington, VA: Lois Gibbs, Will
Collette and Brian Lipsett at CCHW, P.O. Box 926, Arlington, VA 22216;
phone (703) 276-7070; they publish a raft of their own useful
publications and they're in touch with practically every group fighting
every polluter in the country. Lastly, get yourself hooked into the
computerized bulletin board for pollution fighters, Environet, run by
Greenpeace: (415) 861-6503, and then send electronic mail to Ben
Gordon, asking him to give you free 800 phone service into Environet.
The times they are achangin.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: tri; computers; citizen activism; rtk; right to act;

Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (24)