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Pho to by Ala n Pog u e mysteriously got held up by House Speaker Gib Lewis and then died in a House committee. This year’s right-to-know bill, sponsored by Watson, was passed out of the House Public Health Committee April 1 and is likely to face a full House vote this month. Sen. John Whitmire, DHouston, will be carrying the bill in the Senate. In an unusual display of unanimity among disparate interests, Watson’s bill was supported in a Public Health Committee hearing on March 19 by the AFL-CIO, the Texas Chemical Council, and the Sierra Club. The agreement on a right-to-know law was arrived at last December after the Chemical Council notified Watson the lobby would be willing to work with him to draft acceptable legislation. Watson sat down with the chemical lobbyists, labor representatives and environmentalists and came up with legislation that differs in many respects from Doggett’s not the least of which is the fact that it has a chance to pass. “We discarded the whole bill [Doggett’s] and started with what we could agree on,” Watson says. Now Watson, a former president of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers local union in Deer Park, is faced with seeing his bill supported by Shell, DuPont and other big concerns he has traditionally been at odds with. “It makes me’ nervous,” he says, “but I know I would not be this far without them.” As the state’s newspapers have reported it, the primary factor in getting the chemical industries aboard has been the measures in the bill to protect the trade secrets of the companies. Doggett’s bill had a fairly extensive section to protect trade secrets but included a clause saying the secrecy would not apply to “a toxic substance that is a carcinogen, mutagen, teratogen, or other cause of significant irreversible damage to human organs or body systems for which there is a need to know the precise chemical name.” To the Chemical Council this did not seem to offer much protection. Watson’s bill allows secrecy for any chemical, as long as the company is able to substantiate its claims that trade secrets are at issue. But there are two other factors that have gone largely unreported that are also important to the bill’s chances of slipping with little controversy through the House. One factor is that the bill does not attempt to give farm workers the right to know what pesticides are around them in the fields. According to Ken Kramer of the Sierra Club, who attended the December meeting to draft Rep. Ed Watson the bill, pesticides were exempted on the advice of Rep. Watson. “He did not want to mire down this bill with the pesticide-use issue,” Kramer says. Farm workers have benefited recently from a hard-fought victory on the part of the Department of Agriculture to set up rules giving farm workers the right to be notified in advance of aerial pesticide spraying. There is no requirement that farm workers be told what chemicals are being sprayed, nor what the known health hazards are, nor what other chemicals they might be coming into contact with in the fields. Still, the Agriculture Department rules were fiercely resisted by certain conservative farm groups and their allies in the legislature, and the right to warning is generally seen as the best that can be expected for now. Doggett’s 1983 bill, by contrast, did not make an exception in the case of the right to know about pesticides in the workplace, and Doggett specifically pointed to pesticide hazards while introducing the bill on the Senate floor. The other significant difference between the Watson bill and the Doggett bill lies in the determination of which state agency has responsibility for monitoring the act and the dissemination of the relevant information. Doggett’s bill gave that power to the state Department of Labor and Standards. The Chemical Council listed this as one of 25 things wrong with the bill, preferring instead that the Texas Department of Health be involved. In Watson’s bill, all the relevant authority is in the hands of the Texas Department of This is a somewhat ironic position for Watson to find himself in, having butted heads on a number of issues with TDH commissioner Robert Bernstein. Watson has for several years been trying to get the health department to investigate skin rash problems in Deer Park, south of Houston, which Watson believes may be related to air pollution. Bernstein’s response to these and other environmentally related health problems has been often cautious and sometimes skeptical. Watson’s bill puts one of the most important features in the hands of the Department of Health: giving not just workers but the members of the community the right to know about what chemicals are stored and manufactured in nearby plants and what the recognized dangers are. Under the bill, chemical companies are required to submit a list of workplace chemicals and their hazards to the Department of Health. The Department is charged with releasing such information to the public. It will also be up to TDH to determine the validity of chemical company claims of trade secrecy. In cases involving trade secrets, chemicals may be named in code, and information on hazards will still be available to the public. Watson’s bill attempts primarily to follow the lead of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration which has new federal right-to-know standards going into effect this November. The state law will go beyond the federal law in two respects: in giving the community the right to know, and in covering some non-manufacturing workplaces. The OSHA standard applies only to manufacturing jobs \(once again leaving out Kramer of the Sierra Club and Watson both admit the bill does not go as far as they would like. “It’s not as strong as I wanted it, but it’s stronger than the Chemical Council wanted it,” Watson says. Kramer says that, with a recent court setback to New Jersey’s strict right-to-know law, Watson’s bill is probably the best Texas can get right now. To establish the basic right-toknow concept on the Texas books “is a very important step,” Kramer says. Because of the delicate nature of the compromise, Watson says he will accept no floor amendments to his bill. “You can’t start letting everything get changed on a thing like this,” Watson says. “Once we do, we’re going to lose.” 0 6 APRIL 19, 1985