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PUBLIC DISSEMINATION OF INFORMATION TO SUPPORT SAFE MANAGEMENT OF CHEMICALS

J.S.Young

Hampshire Research Institute

I would like to thank the Russian Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for sponsoring this workshop and inviting me to participate.

My presentation has three main parts.

  • First, because the Hampshire Research Institute (HRI) is a somewhat unusual nongovernmental organization, I would like to describe who we are, what we do, and how we support this work.

  • The second part is concerned with the history of direct public dissemination of environmental information in the United States. I will briefly note the origins of these efforts, describe some of the progress that we have made, and note some of the continuing challenges.

  • The third and most extensive part will focus on international initiatives dealing with the dissemination of environmental information to the public and the use of that information by the public. My belief is that the experiences of a variety of nations are more likely to provide cases that are useful in Russia than would an exclusive focus on the U.S. experience. Equally important, there are a number of international initiatives that will likely influence Russian environmental initiatives, as part of the larger issue of Russian participation in the global economy.

HRI is a different kind of NGO in several ways. Perhaps the most basic is that it began as a for-profit business (government consulting). Many U.S. NGOs



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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop PUBLIC DISSEMINATION OF INFORMATION TO SUPPORT SAFE MANAGEMENT OF CHEMICALS J.S.Young Hampshire Research Institute I would like to thank the Russian Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for sponsoring this workshop and inviting me to participate. My presentation has three main parts. First, because the Hampshire Research Institute (HRI) is a somewhat unusual nongovernmental organization, I would like to describe who we are, what we do, and how we support this work. The second part is concerned with the history of direct public dissemination of environmental information in the United States. I will briefly note the origins of these efforts, describe some of the progress that we have made, and note some of the continuing challenges. The third and most extensive part will focus on international initiatives dealing with the dissemination of environmental information to the public and the use of that information by the public. My belief is that the experiences of a variety of nations are more likely to provide cases that are useful in Russia than would an exclusive focus on the U.S. experience. Equally important, there are a number of international initiatives that will likely influence Russian environmental initiatives, as part of the larger issue of Russian participation in the global economy. HRI is a different kind of NGO in several ways. Perhaps the most basic is that it began as a for-profit business (government consulting). Many U.S. NGOs

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop started as small groups of citizens concerned about particular local issues working on a volunteer basis, and they have grown into nationwide organizations with hundreds of thousands of members and professional staffs. Hampshire Research Associates was founded by Warren Muir, formerly the Director of the Office of Toxic Substances in the Environmental Protection Agency, with a focus on the analysis of information systems and methods for assessing the risks posed by exposure to toxic chemicals. After nearly a decade of operation, a related non-profit institute was created, with the focus of providing information directly to the public (including other NGOs), rather than via reports to the government. In the past decade, the non-profit institution has grown to eclipse the government consulting work, and the consulting firm now operates as a subsidiary of the NGO. Another difference between HRI and other NGOs is the way we work. If many U.S. NGOs can be viewed as “warriors” defending the environment, HRI is instead an “armorer,” providing the public with the information and analytical tools they need to participate in public debate and decision-making concerning the environment. As might be expected for an organization founded by a chemist, and which hired two toxicologists as its first staff, our focus is quite specific. We are concerned with the potential adverse effects of chemicals, whether via intentional use in commerce and industry or as by-products of modern industrial society. Our main role has been to take data that are available to the public at least in a hypothetical sense, and to provide data formats, analyses, and tools that ensure that those data are really available to support public participation in environmental deliberations. Two key issues have been the dissemination of data on the releases of industrial and commercial chemicals to the environment (PRTRs) and the development of user-friendly tools for risk assessment. In the latter area, we have long enjoyed the collaboration of Dr. Tarasova and the Mendeleev University. While most of our work is no longer on behalf of government agencies, it has received substantial financial support from the government, in the form of grants and cooperative agreements. We have also had significant support from private foundations. Increasingly, our work has been supported by multilateral institutions, including UN agencies (UNEP, UNIDO, UNITAR), OECD, and the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC). In the United States, there is a wealth of environmental data available to the public. The key problem that we have encountered is that government agencies vary widely in the extent to which they provide the data in a form that is usable to any but a small group of experts and the level of effort that they require a citizen to expend to get the data.

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop Probably our best known data source is the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). It reports annual data on releases and transfers of some 600 chemicals and chemical classes from a range of U.S. industries. This success story had its beginnings, however, in failure. Most sources credit the passage of the enabling legislation with the environmental disaster at Bhopal, which was closely followed by a similar, if far better controlled, incident at Institute, West Virginia. Without this disaster and potential disaster, the law (which addresses both ongoing releases and disaster preparedness) might never have been passed. At the time, the Environmental Protection Agency held that it was unnecessary, and unlikely to provide information not obtainable elsewhere. TRI only requires reporting of data to the public, and yet it is associated with major improvements in environmental performance. Over the ten years for which consistently reported TRI data have been available (1988–1997), there has been a substantial decline in releases of listed chemicals from reporting facilities: Substantial declines have been seen in on-site releases from 1988 to 1997 (49.2 percent overall): to air, down 55 percent; to surface water, 64.7 percent; to underground injection, 21.9 percent; to land, 26.2 percent. These decreases were not offset by an increase in transfers, but reflect real advances in environmental protection. Academics still argue over exactly how reporting alone has led to improved performance, but most agree that the annual reporting of data linked to the specific facilities responsible for emissions is a key element. There are many other databases that are less well used (likely because they lack a comparable mandate for public reporting). They are likely targets for further efforts at effective public dissemination. We are beginning to explore the use of new tools, including Geographic Information Systems, to increase the utility and availability of these data. Despite the benefits of public reporting, there are still challenges to making sure the public obtains the data it needs to participate in environmental protection. Over the past decade, the range of chemicals and industries covered by TRI reporting has expanded significantly. At each turn, there is major resistance from affected industries. More recently, there has been a major challenge to the fundamental concept of public access to data, under the guise of concern about terrorism and security. A recent law imposed a new “balancing” test on risks and benefits of information dissemination, despite a complete absence of any evidence that these data have been used in terrorism. In consequence, new regulations have severely restricted public access to data on the potential impacts of industrial disasters. These restrictions, among other effects, have precluded any analysis at a national or regional level of the safety of our industrial facilities.

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop Sadly, some evidence also suggests that government agencies are becoming less willing to work with the NGO community to provide effective access to information for the public. At this point, I hope that this is an accidental consequence of government restructuring efforts. As I noted in my introduction, it may be that activities in a variety of international forums are of greater relevance to Russia that are the specific experiences that we have had in the United States. In this regard, I want to briefly describe the recent progress of the international community with regard to PRTRs and discuss some potential political implications for reporting in Russia. The latter will rely on observations regarding possible parallels that have been observed elsewhere. You will have to judge for yourselves whether they have any relevance to the situation in Russia. Finally, I will provide a brief discussion of technical resources relative to establishing a PRTR. While this has been a massive effort in the United States, the experiences of other countries suggest that effective implementation can be done far less expensively. While perhaps not directly relevant to a vast industrial nation such as Russia, the experiences of small European countries may be particularly relevant in addressing the problem of disseminating information in the face of budgetary constraints. The TRI and other early PRTRs began as independent national efforts, but over the past decade there has been an accelerating pace of work in the international community. Available evidence suggests that there will be significant harmonization of PRTR reporting on a global scale among the industrialized nations. This harmonization is occurring within a context of the globalization of trade, and significantly involves international economic organizations. It may well be that there will be an economic impetus to instituting such reporting. While I am not aware of any concrete evidence, it is not hard to imagine that public reporting of facility environmental data could become an important part of marketing products globally. Many multinational corporations have adopted a “triple bottom line” (profits, environment, social accountability) approach to evaluating business success, and they are imposing corresponding conditions on firms that wish to serve as their suppliers. There are several documented cases where multinational companies have discontinued relationships with suppliers on the basis of their environmental performance. PRTRs first came to general attention on the international scene at the Rio Conference in 1992, albeit in rather general language, as was true of much of the conference resolutions. Chapter 19 directs governments to implement and improve data bases about chemicals including inventories of emissions, with the co-operation of industry and the public, and cites PRTRs as an example. There has, however, been significant action in multilateral organizations since then, with increasing specificity about an international consensus on public availability of environmental data.

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop Perhaps the most significant event is the signing of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in June 1998 under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The European Union is moving to harmonize its member requirements with this convention. The striking contrast of the Aarhus Convention to Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 is that the language is far more specific with regard to what is required of signatories. The “pillars” of this convention are directly related to the focus of our present meeting, and so the relevance of this convention to Russia is a topic that bears serious examination. It is anticipated that a sufficient number of ratifications will occur to bring the Convention into force in 2001. The signatories have had two subsequent meetings, as well as several meetings of implementation/working groups. Moreover, PRTRs are one of three explicit centers of attention for working groups under the Convention. The PRTR group is being led by the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic has independently been active in this area for several years. It has developed considerable expertise with regard to PRTR implementation in a transition economy faced with severe budget constraints. In North America, cross-border comparisons have become a major element in PRTR reporting, both with regard to its public visibility (they are very popular with the mainstream press) and in terms of whether and how PRTRs are implemented. Significant differences in comparable facilities across the U.S.-Canadian border have drawn interest in the popular press, resulting in the widespread dissemination of data and of information on how to access the data. The greater range of chemical coverage in the United States and the wider range of facilities in Canada have driven continuing evaluation of the adequacy and relevance of each nation’s reporting. Ongoing reporting of U.S. and Canadian data, in the context of a free-trade zone, have created considerable pressure on Mexico to implement a comparable set of reporting. In the context of these effects, it is instructive to note that the earliest ratifiers of the Aarhus Convention are, with a single exception, immediate neighbors of Russia to the south and west. Only the Russian NGO community can determine its interest in pursuing PRTRs or comparable reporting systems, in light of its knowledge of the legal, political, and technical conditions that prevail here. Such an effort may or may not be a priority for any Russian NGO. To the extent that there is interest, however, there are technical resources that can dramatically reduce the effort involved in instituting such a reporting system. For example, there are several national and international sets of guidance on how to estimate emissions from various industrial processes. Given the range of industrial infrastructure that these diverse sources represent, at least some should be relevant or adaptable to conditions in Russia. Many of these technical documents are directly available on the Internet.

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop In addition to the resources listed below, which deal primarily with the problem of generating data to report, there is a wealth of available information (with more under development) on how to implement the reporting and dissemination of these data. The international institutions listed below represent a good starting place for any NGO interested in PRTR implementation. TABLE 1 Technical Resources for PRTR Implementation National Resources   www.epa.gov/ttnchiel/ Air CHIEF, AP-42 www.environment.gov.au/epg/npi/handbooks Australian Guidance International Resources   http://themes.eea.eu.int:80/showpage.php//?pg=40530 CORINAIR Atmospheric Emission Inventory Guidebook United Nations   www.unitar.org/cwm UNITAR—Support Materials and Compendium www.who.int/iomc IOMC (Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals)—1995 OECD   www.oecd.org/ehs/prtr/projects.htm Estimation and Dissemination Documents