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STATEMENT ON PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH AND HAZARD REDUCTION (Chemical plants, terrorism, and right-to-know)

Sponsors

<-- Terrorism and Industrial Chemicals

STATEMENT ON PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH AND HAZARD REDUCTION

November 2001

We, the undersigned medical, nursing, health science, public health, consumer and faith professionals and organizations, share in the horror felt around the world at the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians on September 11 and support efforts to ensure that similar terrorist acts are never repeated.

We urge that the efforts to prevent future terrorist acts honor the principles of freedom and democracy that we cherish and seek to protect. Embedded in the principles of freedom and democracy is the right-to-know about hazards in oneís own community and the right-to-act to reduce those hazards.

Freedom and democracy are preserved only insofar as our nation respects the publicís right-to-know and honors the governmentís duty to warn communities about pollutants in our air, land, and water, and about hazardous conditions where we live, work, play, and learn. Many pollutants are known to harm human health even at low levels of exposure. Information about hazardous conditions allows individual citizens as well as their elected representatives to make informed choices about their own and their communityís health and safety and enables health practitioners to better recognize and treat conditions related to environmental exposures.

The terrorist acts of September 11 have in particular heightened awareness of the dangers posed to communities by potential releases of hazardous chemicals in our midst. While valid security concerns have been raised, some current proposals would unduly deny information and forewarning about hazards to those who could be harmed. Moreover, the appropriate release of information would actually help to protect and serve our communities, our citizens, and public health. Limiting access to information should not be a substitute for effective policies and actions that prevent and control environmental hazards. Limiting the unnecessary production and release of hazardous chemicals on a routine basis, coupled with the right-to-know about the presence and release of such chemicals, will make our nation, and the world, a safer place.

Sponsors

We therefore call upon government officials, public health practitioners, and facility owners and operators to:

[o] Recognize the need to incorporate hazard reduction as a fundamental component of preventing the release of hazardous chemicals (whether from criminal activities or ordinary operations);

[o] Recognize that eliminating or reducing hazardous characteristics during initial facility design or later retrofitting is preferable to simply adding on hazard control or security measures;

[o] Recognize the need for mandatory, national safety, control and security standards for chemical hazards that cannot otherwise be eliminated.

[o] Recognize that the right-to-know about chemicals in oneís neighborhood, or workplace or near oneís childís school is an important right in our democracy and should not be lightly abridged.

[o] Recognize the need to prepare, equip and train the public health community to identify, prevent, and respond to routine and emergency exposures to environmental health hazards.

We therefore further call for immediate steps and long-term policies that eliminate or reduce chemical hazards as the option of first resort, including policies and steps that:

[*] First, eliminate the possibility of a chemical fire, spill or airborne release, whenever feasible (for example, by substituting safer chemicals or non-chemical alternatives);

[*] Second, reduce the likelihood of a chemical fire, spill or airborne release, whenever chemical hazards cannot be eliminated; (for example, by adding sensors, alarms, automatic shutoffs, or other controls);

[*] Third, mitigate the potential consequences of an unanticipated chemical fire, spill or airborne release, whenever chemical hazards cannot be eliminated or controlled (for example by planning for emergencies and training and equipping the public health community to respond); and,

[*] Fourth, keep unavoidably hazardous facilities away from places where people live, work, play, and learn (for example by establishing adequate buffer zones).

In cases where access to information related to such hazards is being reviewed in light of potential security concerns, such review should:

[o] Include public health professionals and others who have used such information to improve community health and safety;

[o] Follow consistent standards and criteria, deliberately applied;

[o] Uphold hazard prevention as the first option over appeals to withhold information;

[o] Place the burden of doubt on those who would withhold public safety information; and,

[o] Respect the publicís right-to-know and honor the governmentís duty to warn of potential harm.

Signed,

Organizations

Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning
American Public Health Association
Childrenís Environmental Health Network
Consumers Union
General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church
Healthy Children Organizing Project
Improving Kids' Environment
Institute for Children's Environmental Health
Maine Lead Action Project
Michigan Environmental Council
Missouri-SMPL (Safer Management of Pests & Landscapes)
National Center for Policy Research for Women & Families
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Rural Action Safe Pest Control Program
Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, Inc.
United Parents Against Lead of North Carolina, Inc.

Individuals (Affiliations provided for informational purposes only)

Susan Berkson
Metro Coordinator
Minnesota Children's Health Environmental Coalition

Lynne Cannon
Co-chair, Research Committee
Learning Disabilities Association

Ann Carroll

Dave Dempsey
Michigan Environmental Council

H. Susan Freireich, MPH

Sanford Lewis
Attorney

J. W. Oman
Attorney at Law

Stella Stadtherr
Project Coordinator
Community Energy Project, Inc

Ann Vinup
Co-chair, Research Committee
Learning Disabilities Association

Anne Ziebarth

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT THE CHILDRENíS ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH NETWORK, 202-543-4033, EXTENSION 16, OR 703-486-1664.

<-- Terrorism and Industrial Chemicals

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