Nation's First "Right to Act" Law to Prevent Neighborhood Environmental Hazards Enacted

In response to a toxic release from a chemical plant that sent school students to hospitals in this densely populated New Jersey county, the Passaic Board of Chosen Freeholders have unanimously enacted the nation's first neighborhood "right to act" law to prevent environmental hazards.    The law allows neighbors and/or employees to petition the county Health Officer for creation of Neighborhood Hazard Prevention Advisory Committees (NHPACs) for specific facilities.  NHPACs could include management and employees, neighbors, and a municipal representative.  They would meet to discuss potential hazards and would make recommendations to management.  The precedent-setting law gives NHPACs authority to do on-site surveys, accompanied by independent experts.   

Deputy Director Freeholder Lois Cuccinello, said "We got tired of swat teams descending on toxic crime scenes after exposures, injuries, or deaths.  That is why we enacted this law to prevent dangers in the first place."  

Rick Engler, Director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, who helped draft the ordinance, said "This law sets a national precedent by being the first to empower citizens to establish Neighborhood Hazard Prevention Committees with
authority to survey potentially hazardous facilities."   

Key elements of the law include a process whereby 25 or more neighborhood residents and/or facility employees can petition the County Health Officer to create a Neighborhood Hazard Prevention Advisory Committee (NHPAC) for a facility.  The
NHPAC's will provide recommendations to management concerning actual and potential environmental and public health hazards. The NHPAC can survey the facility, with a right to be accompanied by technical experts.  

The New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC) is an alliance of labor, community, and environment organizations working together for good jobs, safe workplaces, and a healthy environment.    


Request from WEC for Proposed Language on Trade Secrets   

The law, effective, January 1, 1999, specifies that the county shall adopt regulations to protect trade secrets and confidential business information.  From your viewpoint, what should a reasonable trade secret/confidential business information regulation
say?  Remember, this law is for on-site surveys and is not focused on data collection or narrowly tied to chemical right to know.  Should WEC develop a standard confidentiality agreement that facilities facing a survey could ask survey teams to
sign?  What are appropriate penalties if individuals violate a reasonable agreement? Any suggestions for how to approach this -- or sources of sympathetic legal or related expertise -- would be most welcome.  So would suggested regulatory language.

Thanks!   

Rick Engler, N.J. Work Environment Council, 198 West State Street,  Third Floor, Trenton, N. J.  08608 FAX (609) 235-3889 or email to rickengler@aol.com  


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