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Groups Submit Policy Recommendations to Strengthen Environmental Right to Know

(Beyond Pesticides, May 12, 2011) Beyond Pesticides joined 112 organizations in endorsing a 102-page set of environmental right-to-know recommendations, which OMB Watch presented on Tuesday, May 10 to the Obama administration. The recommendations, collaboratively drafted by advocates from across the country, aim to expand access to environmental information, equip citizens with data about their environmental health, and empower Americans to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from toxic pollution.

The recommendations are contained within a report titled An Agenda to Strengthen Our Right to Know: Empowering Citizens with Environmental, Health, and Safety Information, drafted as part of the Environmental Information Initiative project. OMB Watch compiled the report following a year of work that culminated in a conference of almost 100 environmental, health, and safety advocates held in November 2010.

Sean Moulton, OMB Watch’s Director of Federal Information Policy, said, “Many of the recommendations laid out in the report are ambitious, but they are also needed. Environmental and right-to-know advocates believe that much more information, presented in more searchable and usable formats, is necessary in order to adequately protect Americans’ environmental health.”

Three key priorities are woven throughout the recommendations:

1. Environmental justice must always be considered – Minority and low-income communities have historically borne a far greater proportion of environmental harm than other communities, and several recommendations address the need to improve data on this issue.

2. Health risks from chemicals need to be better tracked and communicated to the public – There is a great need for more and better data on potential impacts to vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children without overuse of restrictions such as trade secrets. This includes identifying the fate and impacts of pesticides in the environment.

3. Public participation has to start with the government – While there are many communities, organizations, and individuals across the country who are interested and concerned about environmental issues, the first steps to getting those people to engage must come from the government.

The report points out the current pitfalls with pesticide use and illness reporting data, noting that that California is currently the only state that gathers and makes publicly available comprehensive data on the quantities, types, and locations of use of agricultural pesticides. Specifically, it calls for required reporting and disclosure of pesticide use and illness, including:

Track farm pesticide applications – USDA should work with EPA and states to require reporting by farms of their use of pesticides. Such reports must include geographic data so that researchers may evaluate the potential impacts on nearby water bodies, aquifers, schools and playgrounds, wildlife and habitats, organic farm fields, homes, and other areas that could be harmed by pesticide drift, residues, and metabolites. Detailed information on the chemical identity – including the identity of all so-called inert ingredients – quantity, and manner of application should also be reported. Such data are vital to monitoring the health impacts of pesticide exposure to farm workers, their families, and nearby communities.

Track the fate and health impacts of pesticide use – Field research and monitoring should be expanded to explore the fate of pesticides and their metabolites, the extent of pesticide drift and the areas affected (especially homes and schools), the amount of residue on foods and the risk it poses, impacts on sensitive wildlife such as amphibians and birds, among other questions, and more. Monitoring efforts conducted by community members should be encouraged and the data collected integrated into government research. Pesticide-related illnesses, poisonings, and accidents must also be tracked and disclosed (see, for example, the multi-state program at CDC’s NIOSH, the Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risk). Physicians should be required to report pesticide-related illnesses, poisonings, and accidents to relevant agencies, and those agencies should compile the reports and make them publicly available.

The report also includes several “first steps” that the government can and should get started on right away. They include:
• Increase the collection and distribution of environmental justice data
• Fill data gaps on the harm from chemicals, as well as address information shortfalls on safer alternatives
• Ensure product labels disclose all ingredients, including the so-called inert ingredients, and their associated risks
• Forge the Toxics Release Inventory into a more powerful disclosure tool
• Develop a unified facility reporting system
• Provide for worker and public participation

Mr. Moulton concluded, “The opportunity to advance this proactive agenda is upon us. We call on our leaders and decision makers to take up these recommendations and ensure that every person in the country has access to the information needed to make decisions that enable all of us to live, work, play, and learn within a healthy environment.”

An Agenda to Strengthen Our Right to Know is available online at http://www.ombwatch.org/eiirecommendations.


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