However, in February, 1997, Oregon Associated Industries and the American Electronics Association introduced a bill in the Oregon legislature to erase community right-to-know about toxic chemicals. The bill constitutes legislated ignorance. The sponsors want industries to be able to put hazardous chemicals into a community's air, water, ground, and products without telling the community. Specifically, HB 3281 would (a) destroy the Eugene toxics right-to-know law, which Eugeneans voted for last November, and (b)'prevent all other Oregon communities from obtaining toxics right-to-know.
The bill's summary says that the bill "prohibits local government from adopting local regulation intended to provide for distribution of hazardous substance information to public." The bill claims that, "Information on the use of hazardous substances in this state should be made readily available to members of the public, allowing them to take measures to protect themselves against dangers posed to health and safety." However, the bill then denies citizen access to this information. It deceitfully pretends that this information is available from the State Fire Marshall. The State Fire Marshall collects information on hazardous chemicals stored on a facility's site. The State Fire Marshall does not collect information regarding the release of hazardous chemicals into a community's air, water, sewage treatment, or consumer products.
Your help is needed to defeat this bill, because Associated Oregon Industries has big influence in the current Oregon legislature. We need every Senator and Representative possible, Republican and Democrat, to commit to opposing this bill, and to make sure Governor Kitzhaber vetoes the bill if it passes.
EXPLAIN HOW DIOXIN WORKS An important task for you, the reader, is to learn, simply and clearly, how dioxin and chlorinated chemicals harm people, and then to explain it to City Council members, to legislators, to everyone. Explain how these toxic chemicals scramble chemical messages in the body. Explain the consequences of these toxic chemicals suppressing the immune system. Explain how they interfere with the organization of the brain in a developing embryo.
A particularly compelling need is for us all to come to understand that we are essentially not different from wildlife. Focus group surveys conducted prior to the release of the book Our Stolen Future, regarding endocrine -disrupting chemicals such as dioxin, found that people understand that wildlife are being damaged by hormone -disrupting toxic chemicals. They believe that sex changes are occurring in fish, undescended testicles in Florida panthers, small penises in Columbia River otters.
But most people think we humans are different. That we're somehow stronger, or bigger, or smarter, or something, and therefore not subject to the rules of the rest of the animal kingdom.
All living beings are in this together. Mouse estradiol is genetically identical to that of Hillary Clinton, or our daughters. A human is, in terms of dioxin, the same as a panther, a fish, and an otter. What happens to them happens to us.
BE AN ORDINARY CITIZEN A third major contribution we all can make is to be an ordinary citizen who gathers signatures on a petition, sits on local committees, or asks people to give money to advocacy organizations. In other words, don't leave political action to others. In a democracy, citizens are responsible for governing themselves.
It is not an easy task for people to become involved with political action, and to recruit others. For instance, it is not easy to recruit health professionals into political action that involves changing the practices of organochlorine using industries and corporations, such as hospitals that use PVC plastic bags and tubing. But it is essential.
To not act is to collaborate in unnecessary killing and damage and loss.
It is not enough to merely stand on the banks of a river and rescue drowning bodies as they float past. It is necessary to walk upstream and find out who is throwing the bodies in. And it is necessary to change that behavior, whether it is by a person, a corporation, or a government policy. That is ethics and community responsibility.
Mary O'brien, Ph.D, is a consultant on alternatives to risk assessment. She has been a staff scientist with the U.S. Office of Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, and the Environmental Research Foundation. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.