The Right to Know

Title

The Right to Know

Description

RIGHT TO KNOW LAWS
In 1980, demands by Western New York union workers dealing with toxic chemicals reached a crescendo. They insisted on knowing the nature of the substances to which they were exposed, and the extent of that exposure on the job. Some were suffering from ailments they attributed to toxic exposure.

As a result of their efforts and similar demands that were being made around the country, “Right to Know” laws were passed locally, statewide, and nationally, granting workers and citizens access to chemical information critical to their health and safety.

The following series of WIVB-TV reports by Rich Newberg documents this critical period of awakening to environmental hazards. They were aired on WIVB-TV in 1980 and ’81. The same issues are surfacing again today. The incoming Biden administration is pledging to make environmental justice a top priority.

The opening comment is from Lois Gibbs. In 1980 Ms. Gibbs and the Love Canal Homeowners Association successfully organized the relocation of more than 700 families whose homes were in the toxic Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York. Their efforts led to the creation of the nation’s Superfund, providing relief for toxic neighborhoods around the country. Her comments are provided courtesy of Harvard University, where she was interviewed as part of the “Voices From the Field Leadership Series” on April 10, 2014.
[Total Running Time of Reports: 1:00:26]


1. ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST LOIS GIBBS REFLECTS BRIEFLY ON THE RIGHT TO KNOW
“Voices from the Field” (series)
Harvard University
School of Public Health
April 10, 2014
“Right to know actually started in the workplace, and then the workers moved it to the city level, then the county level, and then the state level. And then these various states did it, and the industry is going crazy because they’re filling out so many forms. And they said, we need a federal policy. This is insane.”
(Runs: :14)

2. WORKERS RIGHT TO KNOW LAW [SERIES]
“A Safe Place to Work?”
WIVB-TV Impact Series
5 Parts / February 1980
(Runs: 14:40)

Chemical and steel workers in the Buffalo-Niagara region demand to know the level of exposure to toxic substances in the workplace. There is increasing evidence that their health and safety are being compromised. Their efforts lead to the New York Right To Know Law, requiring industries to disclose the type of chemicals utilized in the workplace and the level of exposure to workers.

Western New York ranks in the top 10% of cancer regions in the country. Cancer experts believe exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace is largely to blame.

This five part series by WIVB-TV reporter Rich Newberg takes viewers into the plants in question and explores the concerns expressed by workers who say they are suffering the consequences of exposure to dangerous chemicals.

[Part 1]
Workers at the Olin Chemical Plant in Niagara Falls, New York claim they are losing their hair and teeth due to exposure to mercury in a plant that produced chlorine.

A year earlier Occupational Health and Safety inspectors find that controls were not implemented to reduce unsafe levels of exposure to mercury.

While workers are given urine tests and the plant is making improvements, including a new ventilation system, the manager is unable to promise employees they will remain within federal safety limits of mercury exposure. He says in “certain operations it’s just not technically feasible to reduce the levels below that limit.”
(Runs: 3:35)

[Part 2]
Bethlehem Steel workers in Lackawanna, New York are exposed to suspected lead dust in the 13 Inch Bar. It is described by United Steel Workers Local 2603 president Art Sambuchi as, “A big heavy air, orange in color. You can’t see ten, fifteen feet in front of you.” Workers in the mill staged a wildcat strike believing their safety has been compromised.

At the same time, the federal government is investigating concerns that carcinogenic toxins from the coke ovens are exposing workers to dangerous carcinogens. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration finds 22 serious violations, indicating that workers are being exposed up to 13 times beyond the safe level of exposure to poisonous chemical emissions.

Stanley Lukasik, a 58 year old retired coke oven supervisor who attributes his weak heart to his 36 years at the steel plant, says he proved in 1970 (ten years earlier) that emissions could be controlled, even without the use of sophisticated equipment, but that Bethlehem Steel ignored his suggestions. Mr. Lukasik dies of a heart attack eight days after being interviewed for the WIVB-TV “Right To Know” series.
(Runs: 2:37)

[Part 3]
Joseph Pillittere of Niagara Falls, New York enters politics after working as a rocket test engineer at Bell Aerospace in Western New York. He believes several of his co-workers died as a result of chemical exposure while on the job.

As a freshman Assemblyman-(D), Niagara Falls), Pillittere fights for a law that will give workers the right to know the chemicals they are exposed to in the workplace and the risks involved.

Workers from all types of plants and mills in Western New York begin posting stickers demanding to know, “What’s In This Stuff?” Claiming their “safety and health is at stake,” they call for passage of the Right to Know Legislation.

Momentum is building as a result of environmental tests conducted around Bloody Run Creek in Niagara Falls. Results show the presence of deadly dioxin dust in some factories upstream. Dioxin is considered one of the most deadly chemicals ever created.

On December 20, 1979, the findings are announced to a cross section of workers who meet in Niagara Falls, New York. Assemblyman Pillittere presses federal health officials at the meeting, questioning why they were not aware of the fact that
Tam Ceramics Company had closed one of its buildings that had been contaminated by dioxin dust.

Pillittere realizes his legislation, if passed, would be costly to industry, but is willing to lose potential re-election support in order to fight for the rights of workers. He says, “It’s more important to be able to live with yourself, and If you can live with yourself and you get re-elected, it’s a plus. If you can live with yourself and you don’t get re-elected because of big money, at least you can say you always say that you did what you thought was right.”
(Runs: 3:03)

[Part 4]
At a state conducted hearing in Niagara Falls, Garath Tubbs of the Worker’s Compensation Reform Coalition tells the story of an industrial painter who developed a condition that led to uncontrollable shaking and great pain.

Chemical plant representatives from Niagara Falls also testify. Hooker Chemical Corp. Vice President of Operations Milo Harrison says his company is against new legislation that might lead to burdensome rules and regulations. He says Hooker is already studying workers’ health histories and releasing information to workers about hazardous chemicals.

Jeanne Reilly, President of Technical Engineers Union Local 57 at Hooker Chemical testifies that she has yet to see the results of monitoring tests on her fellow workers. This, despite “numerous promises and statements of corporate policy.”
(Runs: 2:27)

[Part 5] (conclusion)
Labor unions representing workers who deal with toxic chemicals call for a central agency that would deal with exposure on the job. Workers’ families, they say, have a right to know what’s being brought home.

Western New York’s scientific community also calls on area industries provide more information about hazardous chemicals.
Cancer researcher Beverly Paigen says, “Our knowledge is very limited in this area, partly because no records are kept of employee exposure, and no records are kept of occupational disease.”

The initial driving political force behind the movement against chemical contamination has its roots in the Love Canal neighborhood. Residents of contaminated communities, along with workers are demanding that the government and industry be more responsive to the hazards of chemical exposure.

Workers seek to know not just the trade name of the chemicals in the workplace, but the components as well. They also want to know if these chemicals accumulate in the human body to cause harm.

Public awareness and sensitivity to the problems of chemical contamination of the environment, in neighborhoods and the workplace is growing, thanks to grass roots and media efforts to dig deeper into health and safety issues.
(Runs: 2:35)

3. HOOKER CHEMICAL FIRES OUTSPOKEN WORKER
The President of Technical Engineers Union Local 57 at Hooker Chemical is fired after testifying that she has yet to see the results of monitoring tests on her fellow workers.
(Runs: 2:01)

4. NEW YORK STATE LAWMAKERS PASS WORKERS RIGHT TO KNOW BILL
The New York State legislature passes the Workers Right to Know Bill. It gives workers the right to know the nature of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
The bill was first introduced by Niagara Falls Assemblyman Joe Pillittere. Senator John Daly handled the bill in the State Senate.
(Runs: :38)

5. BETHLEHEM STEEL WORKERS SHUT DOWN 13” BAR MILL OVER LEAD DUST SAFETY ISSUES
A wildcat strike by Bethlehem Steel workers shuts down the 13” bar mill. Workers say thick clouds of steel lead dust make breathing difficult. They have called on the company to install a proper ventilation system and allow studies to be conducted on medical histories of workers in the mill.
(Runs: 1:42)

6. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD RULES THAT STEEL WORKERS ARE ENTITLED TO THOUSANDS OF COMPANY FILES DATING BACK FIVE YEARS
1980
The National Labor Relations Board rules that the Steelworkers Union is entitled to thousands of Bethlehem Steel files dating back five years. The files will be used to determine whether exposure to potentially hazardous substances in the workplace may have impacted the health of workers.
(Runs: 1:41)

7. BETHLEHEM STEEL COKE OVEN TOUR
1980
Reporters are given a tour of the coke ovens on the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna. A $113 million dollar cleanup effort has cut back on harmful emissions. A year earlier federal health and safety inspectors found harmful emissions thirteen times greater than federal standards allow.
(Runs: 1:42)

8. DONNER HANNA COKE EMISSIONS IMPACT QUALITY OF LIFE IN SOUTH BUFFALO NEIGHBORHOOD
(2 PARTS)
Black dust from the Donner Hanna Coke Company in South Buffalo is raining down on homes near the Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna. The company’s huge ovens turn coal into coke for steel making. Residents, who refer to the pollutants as “the black rain,” learn that they are being exposed to harmful doses that can cause long term health problems. Some are already experiencing respiratory problems. The state says it will meet with Donner Hanna officials to discuss the issue.
1981
(Runs: 3:52)

9. 400 UNION LEADERS TAKE A STAND AGAINST ATTEMPTS TO TAKE POWER AWAY FROM THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION
(2 PARTS)
1980
Western New York labor unions unite to fight proposed legislation that they claim would strip the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of its power. Congressmen representing the region, including Jack Kemp, come out against the Schweiker Bill.
(Runs: 3:00)

10. SICK AND INJURED WORKERS TELL STATE LAWMAKERS THEY CAN BARELY SURVIVE ON CURRENT WORKERS COMPENSATION BENEFITS
1980
Workers injured on the job testify before state lawmakers that the compensation payments they receive have not kept up with the cost of living. Older workers, whose compensation rates were set in stone, do not qualify for increased payments that went into effect years later. Members of the state compensation board agree that the law must change.
(Runs: 1:58)

11. FIGHTING CHEMICAL FIRES
Special training for firefighters who need to understand the nature of lethal
gases and smoke.
1981
(Runs: 1:31)

12. WESTERN NEW YORK CHEMICAL COMPANIES HAVE NO PLACE TO DUMP TOXIC WASTE
1981
Firefighters are trained to deal with toxic chemical blazes. Newer Scott Air Packs
ensure against mask leakage.
(Runs: 1:48)

13. 500 MILLION GALLONS OF CONTAMINATED WATER ARE BEING DUMPED INTO NIAGARA RIVER EVERY DAY ACCORDING TO NEW YORK PUBLIC INTEREST GROUP STUDY
(3 PARTS)
1981
Chemical companies are running out of places to dump their hazardous wastes.
Niagara Falls residents are concerned that current hazardous waste burial grounds may be expanding.

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) says chemical companies have been dumping 500 Million gallons of contaminated water into the Niagara River every day. NYPIRG is concerned that the drinking water for 380,000 area residents may be polluted.

The Chemical Manufacturers Association questions the NYPIRG findings and accuses the public interest group of putting jobs in jeopardy. The federal government will provide millions of dollars to improve processing at the Niagara Falls Waste Water Treatment Plant.

NYPIRG faults the City of Niagara Falls for allowing Hooker Chemical’s S Dump to remain open. NYPIRG says the intake system there is contaminated and that tons of toxic chemicals are leaching into the Niagara Falls Water Filtration Plant.
(Runs: 6:26)

14. REPUBLIC STEEL FILTERS OUT HARMFUL CHEMICALS —RETURNING CLEAN WATER TO BUFFALO RIVER
1980
Republic Steel says it has filtered out harmful chemicals and is returning clean wager to the Buffalo River. Reporters and government officials are given a tour of the $11 million dollar filtration system. Republic Steel had been cited in the past for water pollution violations.
(Runs: 2:03)

15. RADIATION EXPOSURE DURING DEVELOPMENT OF THE ATOMIC BOMB AT LINDE PLANT TOWN OF TONAWANDA
1980
During the development of the atomic bomb, the Linde Division of Union Carbide in the Town of Tonawanda allowed up to 70 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste to be discharged into waste water wells on its property. The U.S. Department of Energy maintains the uranium concentrations in that waste were not significant enough to pose a health threat. Water samples are continuing around the Linde site. It was revealed that some Linde employees may not have been told they were working on the Manhattan project. Efforts are underway to find these employees and check their health records.
(Runs: 1:52)

16. RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL SHIPMENTS FROM CANADA
There is growing concern that shipment of radioactive material from Canada are going unreported as they enter Western New York. Buffalo lawmakers move toward initiating regulations that would alert localities when shipments are passing through on their roadways.
(2 PARTS)
1981
(Runs: 4:57)

17. “THE PRICE WE PAY FOR LEAD”
(2 PARTS)
8/1 - 8/2/1995
Even though lead paint was banned in 1978, Buffalo’s old housing stock makes residents vulnerable to exposure. Even lower levels can be harmful. Children have been poisoned, some suffering irreversible damage, including hyperactivity and learning disabilities.

More than 61 percent of children in Erie County, ages 6 months to 5 years, are estimated to exceed the safety limits of lead in the blood. Black children, many from the inner city, make up 78 percent of youngsters treated for lead poisoning in Erie County.

Lawsuits are filed against landlords in Buffalo who have failed to remove lead paint from their properties. However, defense attorneys say it is difficult to prove that exposure to lead paint is the cause of certain ailments.
(Runs: 10:08)

Date

1980-2014

Source

Rich Newberg Reports Collection

Publisher

WIVB (Television Station: Buffalo, N.Y.)
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library (publisher of digital)

Rights

Copyright held by WIVB-TV. Access to this digital version provided by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Videos or images in this collection are not to be used for any commercial purposes without the expressed written permission of WIVB-TV and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Users of this website are free to utilize material from this collection for non-commercial and educational purposes.