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City's toxics right-to-know law a boondoggle.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Frederick Scalise For The Register-Guard

Let's be honest about Eugene's toxics right-to-know program. It was created by a group opposed to Hynix bringing a semiconductor facility to Eugene. Its members devised an onerous and costly reporting program to try to discourage other chemical-using companies from coming to town.

The current proposal to expand the scope of this program is motivated by money, and money alone. The state Legislature imposed caps on the fees that could be assessed against the limited number of local manufacturing companies required to comply, undercutting the revenue needed to support the program.

To collect enough money to keep the program viable the past three years, program proponents resorted to operating well beyond the terms of the charter amendment approved by Eugene voters. Fees have routinely been assessed against even those manufacturing companies that do not use or store any of the chemicals specified in the toxics right-to-know charter amendment.

Now, proponents are looking to expand the number of businesses required to participate in the program in order to increase the revenue base and keep the program alive.

The city program suffers from numerous deficiencies and problems. Even the title of the program is misleading and inaccurate. Using the buzz word "toxic" probably provided political advantages, but in fact, most of the chemicals covered by the program are not considered toxic by any commonly accepted definition.

The toxics right-to-know law is a contrived mishmash of rules arbitrarily culled, often out of context, from existing federal laws. Where existing definitions of hazardous materials did not meet their needs, the authors of the charter amendment simply made up their own.

The entire process of requiring businesses to account for all aspects of the hazardous materials that they use is, at best, an academic exercise with very little benefit to the community. There are no meters on most processes that record how much of a specific chemical component gets incorporated into the product, emitted to the atmosphere or discharged with wastewater. Therefore, the mass-balance calculations that are required to be reported by complying companies are most often just educated guesstimates, the accuracy of which can never be verified.

Proponents of the toxics right-to-know program claim that "reporting has become fairly easy" with "simple reporting forms." Obviously, they never have worked for a company that has to comply with the reporting requirements. There is nothing easy or simple about the reporting process. They also claim that the information collected can be used to "improve community health." I defy them to document any instance in which that has occurred, or to describe how that could ever be legally or practically achieved.

The truth is, the program is a costly boondoggle that provides little information of value to the overall community. It does, however, generate data that a small group of people can use to forward an anti-chemical agenda.

There are much better ways to operate a local chemical right-to-know program. In 1990, the city and representatives from both business and industry developed a comprehensive hazardous materials management program. That program required the collection of detailed information from all facilities (including public entities and retail operations that are exempt for the toxics right-to-know program) that used or stored hazardous materials. This data was compiled into a publicly available community right-to-know database, and also was used by public safety officials to prepare emergency response plans. Each facility also was inspected on a regular basis to assure compliance with all applicable codes and regulations, with consulting assistance provided to help with compliance.

Unfortunately, legislative interference disqualified the fee schedule used to support the hazardous materials management program, and it more or less expired in the mid-1990s. But there is now an opportunity to update and revive this carefully developed program.

Eugene's toxics right-to-know program does not deserve to be expanded. It should be scrapped altogether, and replaced with a real hazardous materials information and community right-to-know program. If businesses are going to be made to collect and report chemical information and pay fees, at the very least they have the right to expect that this effort is going to support some clear and useful purpose, with demonstrable benefits to public safety and the community.

Frederick Scalise is a certified hazardous materials manager and industrial hygienist with 28 years of experience as an independent environmental and occupational health consultant.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 18, 2005
Previous Article:A PART OF THE ART.

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