Ohio’s Issue 5 – Right to Know

Cleveland, Ohio — How far will some corporate lobbies go to deny innocent people the right to an environment without the silent, cumulative violence that is too charitably called pollution? Well, here in Ohio, the struggle over Issue 5 – the right to know, chemical labelling referendum, shows how far.

Issue 5 qualified for the ballot after 350,000 Ohioans affixed their signatures to the petitions. It would require explicit warnings on consumer products containing chemicals that expose any individuals to a “significant risk” of cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. The proposed law uses the most conservative generally accepted risk assessment methods. It also would require mailings to neighbors when the significant risk exposure is through environmental pollution.

The ideas behind Issue 5 are to advance informed consumer choice and community shame. Its principal backers, the Ohio Citizen Action Group and a number of labor unions, took their cue from a similar California law that has been working well for five years, despite similar scare tactics by its corporate opponents all over television before the vote.

Now several of these corporate opponents to California’s Prop. 65 concede its salutary effects. To avoid labelling, Gillette, Dow Chemical and the wine industry, for example, made changes that made their products safer. No jobs were lost, prices and taxes were not raised and the sky did not fall.

But to watch television these days in Ohio is to be deluged, with 30 second ads charging that Issue 5 would cause jobs to be lost, taxes and prices to increase and prosecutors to run wild. Given the six million dollars the corporate cancer defense lobby is spending to defeat this proposal, it is a wonder why they left out blaming Issue 5 for the Cleveland Browns’ losses.

So wild are these ads and handouts to workers, customers and shareholders by the likes of Armco Steel, BP Petroleum and other polluters, that one Ohioan says if these claims were given a polygraph test, the machine would explode.

What is the reality? The same corporate crowd, that unsuccessfully opposed auto safety standards, meat and poultry inspection laws, and toxic emission control laws in the Sixties and Seventies, brought pollution law enforcement to a near halt during the Reagan-Bush years. Recently, the same corporate lobby is pushing to make it more difficult for toxic victims to take their cases to court against the perpetrators of their harm.

And now, the same misbehaving companies are trying to block Ohioans’ right to know when they are being recklessly exposed to a significant cancer or birth defect risk. These offending chemicals have been found in some lawn care chemicals, particle board, carpets, air fresheners, deodorizers, paint strippers, spot removers, art supplies, cosmetics, adhesives, paint varnishes and dry cleaned carpets.

For years, a metals plant in Cleveland filled its neighborhood with bad levels of lead with a particularly harmful impact on children. Armco Steel in southwestern Ohio is a major emitter of benzene.

Passage of Issue 5 would give Ohioans the right to know about these exposures in the products they buy or in the air they breathe. It would given cleaner companies a competitive advantage over their more polluting competitors until the pinch of community shame or consumer rejection made the latter firms reformulate their products or toilet train themselves.

Clearly, even the mere right to know is too much for the polluters. They want to keep their knowledge to themselves. On election day, the voters will decide whether to send a message to the polluters or whether they will be frightened by the propaganda of scare tactics and deceptions.

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