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Killing Right-to-Know in the States

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Although battles are still being fought in California, New Jersey and Michigan to date all the [RTK] laws passed this year [1985] are generally consistent with CMA policy. We have retained our trade secret protection rights and successfully avoided costly requirements for unique labeling, environmental emission monitoring and independent risk management audits.
- Chemical Manufacturers Association Report, Sept. 8, 1985 (view entire document)

In 1986, driven by the worldwide outrage over the deaths of thousands of people from a catastrophic accident at a Union Carbide plant in 1984 in Bhopal, India, community and environmental activists in California mounted an historic campaign to guarantee the public's right-to-know about toxic chemicals in consumer products and the environment. The campaign placed before the state's voters an initiative known as Proposition 65, or the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.

The premise was simple: The public has a right-to-know about toxic hazards before they are exposed to them, and the chemical industry has an obligation to prevent chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive harm from contaminating drinking water. Prop. 65 required manufacturers to label their products for harmful chemicals and allowed citizens to bring suit to enforce the law if regulators proved lax. The reasoning behind labeling requirements is that consumers will avoid products identified as harmful to their health, providing a powerful market incentive for manufacturers to get rid of toxic ingredients.

The chemical industry and its allies spent more than $5 million on a media campaign to defeat Prop. 65, with "top-down leadership by oil and chemical industry CEOs . . . a key element." (view entire document) In response to "the concern of companies over the negative impacts of the publishing [in the news media] of the amount of money companies are contributing," the industry established a fund allowing companies to contribute anonymously to the anti-Prop. 65 campaign. (view entire document) In the end, the industry's campaign persuaded 29 of 30 California newspapers to editorialize against Prop. 65; still, the initiative passed with overwhelming support. (view entire document)

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last updated: march.27.2009

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