Testimony of Mary H. O'Brien before the Oregon House Water and Environment Committee Re: HB 2431

March 8, 1999.

Thankyou for holding this hearing today. I am Mary O'Brien, one of several authors of Eugene's Toxics Right to Know law. I ama member of both the Eugene Toxics Board and the Governor's Task Force on Hazardous Substance Information Reporting and Community Right to Know. For the past 17 years, I have worked on community toxics issues in Eugene, Oregon, the U.S., and internationally.

I would like to present four facts about right to know:

  1. Toxics right to know is a human right and responsibility.
  2. Currently, no more than about 10% of overall facility environmental releases of toxic substances are reported; 90% are not reported.
  3. Approximately 90% of your constituents say that they should have the right to know what toxics are in their communities.
  4. Companies save money by tracking their chemicals closely.

1. Toxics Right to Know Is A Human Right And Responsibility.

It is a human right to know what toxic chemicals we are being exposed to by other humans. It is a responsibility of those facilities who are using a community's air and water and land as wastebaskets to report wht they're putting in those wastebaskets. It is not a responsibility of the citizens to pay to find out what someone else is dumping into their lungs and fetuses.

Do you think you should hve to pay to find out what substance some doctor is injecting into you? Citizens' rights are like patients' rights: It is not reasonable to invade somebody's body without telling them what you're doing.

Citizens don't believe they only have the right to know what chemicals are being stored on site in barrels and transported into and out of a facility, as in the Oregon Fire Marshal survey. They believe they should be informed what chemicals are being released into air, water, land, and products.

Facility and community ignorance of toxic releases is biologically dangerous, intergenerationally irresponsible, and economically stupid.

2. Currently, No More Than About 10% Of Overall Facility Environmental Releases Of Toxic Substances Are Reported; 90% Are Not Reported.

Everyone in the Governor's State Task Force, including the lobbyists for Associated Oregon Industries and American Electronics Association remained silent three months ago when I asked if anyone could refute my evidence that approximately 90% of releases go unreported, or that only about 10% of releases are currently reported.

As part of getting ready for the April 1 reports from Eugene businesses, I and several other citizens in Eugene are preparing spreadsheets of the information that companies currently report to the State Fire Marshal, Eugene Fire Marshal, Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority, Department of Environmental Quality, and the water treatment facility. I believe Oregonians are going to be astonished on April 1 to learn how few toxics releases are reported. The State Fire Marshal storage data shows that more than 41,000 chemicals are stored on site in this state. Our spreadsheet will show that the releases of practically NONE of these chemicals are reported.

If anyone in this Committee, Legislature, or state can refute the evidence that Oregon facilities overall report no more than about 10% of their releases, and provide evidence that more than 10% of toxics are currently being reported, I would be interested to meet and compare evidence. I would be glad to publicly debate such a person.

3. Approximately 90% of Your Constituents State That They Should Have The Right To Know What Toxics Are In Their Communities

Every poll in the U.S., whether local, statewide, or national, including the 1996 Chemical Manufacturers Association poll, reveals that 90% or more of citizens believe they should have the right to know what toxics are in their air, water, products, and communities.

If you think the citizens of Oregon believe they should only have the right to know 10% of the toxic releases, as is currently the case in Oregon reporting, provide evidence via a professional public survey. Or ask citizens in a survey if they think they should have to PROVE the toxicity of their exposure to this or that industrial chemical before they can find out what they're breathing, or drinking, or what their children are ingesting from teething rings, as HB 2431 proposes.

I would be glad to sit down with any of you and jointly devise and fund a survey to find out whether citizens believe they should have the rights Eugene's citizens currently have or the elimination of rights proposed in HB 2431.

4. Companies save money by tracking their chemicals closely.

Sam Pakdel, Environmental Manager at the Hyundai facility in Eugene, several months ago reported to a statewide meeting of industrial environmental managers that Hyundai will be able to comply with Eugene's reporting law and will make money from doing so.

Sam Pakdel is saying for Eugene's local law the same thing that most companies have been saying about every Toxics Right to Know law in this nation, whether Congress' requirement for Toxics Release Industry reporting, New Jersey's more comprehensive state materials accounting, or Massachusetts' requirement to not only report but significantly reduce toxics releases, and develop major toxics use reduction plans. Over a five-year period these companies have reported profiting from reducing their air releases by nearly 70% and their toxics use by approximately 30%.

Doing materials accounting for toxics is like doing financial accounting for dollars. Companies currently track every penny that comes in and goes out from a facility, and they save money doing so. They also save money by tracking chemicals that come into and go out from a facility.


HB 2431 doesn't serve any constituency in Oregon. It doesn't serve toxics-using companies, who profit through materials accounting. It doesn't serve public agencies who are currently writing air permits and serving up drinking water in near-absence of knowledge of what toxics are present in the air or drinking water. And it doesn't serve the 90% of your constituents who believe they have a right to know what they're breathing and drinking and eating. Neither I nor your constituents will sit quietly if you try to legislate them into ignorance.