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If you live near any kind of factory, chemical plant, or similar facility, you might have noticed curious smells emanating from those places. What is that stuff?
Well, thanks to a guy named Tony Mazzocchi, you and I have a legal right to know in detail what kind and how much toxic stuff these places are releasing into our air, water, and soil. The national Right-to-know program, passed in 1984, provides precise data on these toxics that is invaluable to firefighters, health specialists, environmental monitors, community advocacy groups, and others.
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It was not Congress – and certainly not the polluting corporations – that provided the impetus for such an essential public tool. Rather, the sparkplug was Mazzacchi. A wirey, savvy, spirited labor leader (one of the best ever), Tony even coined the phrase, “right-to-know.” Around 1970, he began receiving hundreds of complaints from chemical workers about plants that were shrouded in what the corporate bosses dismissively called “dust.” Mazzocchi barnstormed across America – publicizing, organizing, negotiating, and lobbying around the issue of the public’s right to know about the toxics being so recklessly handled by these profiteers. He helped form grassroots coalitions that passed dozens of state and local right-to-know laws, and they finally pushed through the federal law that has forced clean-ups and saved thousands of lives.
However, in 2001, George W happened, and he’s been doing his damnedest to undo Tony’s work. At the behest of corporate executives who hate the pesky public, his regulators have exempted some 3,500 toxic spewers from the Right-to-Know law.
This is one of the first bits of regulatory monkeywrenching that Congress or a new president must reverse. If they need inspiration to do the right thing on right-to-know, they should read the book on Mazzocchi’s extrodinary life. It’s titled, The Man Who Loved Labor and Hated Work.
“The Right to Know Nothing,” Environmental Health, by Les Leopold, January 22, 2008