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Environmental Health Perspectives
Environmental Health Perspectives
Publication Date
  • Research Article
  • Chemistry
  • Design
  • Political Science


Focus - _T KNOW Two thousand people died in Bhopal, India, in December 1984 from the release of the toxic gas methyl isocyanate from a Union Carbide facility. This tragedy prompted U.S. Congressman Henry A. Waxman to initiate an investi- gation into whether such a cata- strophe could happen here in the United States. The evidence subse- quently gathered by the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, which Waxman chaired, was troubling to many people. The sub- '_ c o m m i t t e e learned thatKA many U.S. companies routinely discharged hun- dreds of hazardous chemicals A. into the air, with very little gov- ernment regulation, let alone knowl- = edge. Responding to a survey by the sub- committee, 67 companies supplied a list of more than 200 chemicals that were consid- ered hazardous and, in some cases, cancer- ous. At the time, the government had estab- lished emission standards for only five chem- icals, not indcluding methyl isocyanate. The discovery that U.S. industry was knowingly emitting potentially toxic sub- stances into the environment in relative priva- cy brought rapid results; later that year Congress passed a bill called the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, or EPCRA. As its name implies, the new law was designed to inform the public of the presence of toxic chemicals that are manufac- tured and otherwise used by industry in an effort to preempt not only toxic catastrophes like Bhopal but lower-level, routine exposures still considered dangerous. In order to achieve that goal, the law empowered the EPA to identify a list of toxic chemicals that certain defined chemical manufacturing facilities would thereafter be required to account for in the form of annual emissions determined by monitoring data or reasonable estimates based on best available data. The collected informa- tion would be assembled into a publicly accessible database to be called the Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI. The law prescribes penalties for failure to report the information

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