Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Risky Business: OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, and Environmental Safety

July 1992

Citation: 22 ELR 10440

Issue: 7

Author: Mary Beth Arnett

Editors' Summary: One goal of information laws is to fulfill the Jeffersonian ideal of empowering citizens through knowledge. OSHA's hazard communication standard (HCS) and EPA's toxics release inventory (TRI) grow from the concept that citizens have a right to know about the toxic hazards in their workplaces and communities. These measures require employers in all workplace sectors and certain categories of manufacturers that use chemicals to disclose information about toxic chemicals to employees and the public. The HCS uses labels and chemical safety data sheets to provide information about workplace chemical hazards, and the TRI relies on chemical data disclosure forms filed by regulated facilities to provide a national public access database on annual toxic chemical releases and transfers from regulated facilities to all environmental media.

This Comment analyzes and critiques OSHA's HCS and EPA's TRI. It examines the history of each regulatory program and how the push and pull of interest groups influenced its enactment. The Comment evaluates the ways in which market forces, federal preemption doctrine, enforcement practices, legal liability, and regulatory shortcomings detract from the goals of the HCS and the TRI. It measures the success of both right to know programs by whether they achieve their stated and underlying purposes of reducing the risk of toxic chemical releases and source illnesses through information provision. The Comment concludes that federal legislative initiatives are needed to expand the limited scope and simplify the technical nature of the required HCS and TRI disclosures. At the same time, state and local legislative initiatives that link community and workplace right to know are needed to temper the tendency for federal exclusivity in regulating chemical risk communication. These steps will serve the goals of reducing risk and redistributing the balance of public decisionmaking power embodied in the purposes of the HCS and the TRI.

Ms. Arnett is an Associate Editor of the Environmental Law Reporter and received a J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1989. The author wishes to thank Professor Carin Clauss for directing a law school reading project on workplace risk communication, William Lesser and Suellen Keiner for sharing their expertise on workplace and community right to know, and Barnett Lawrence for his insights on enforcement matters. The views expressed are the author's.

Download Article >>>