Magazine article The Progressive

Policing Corporate Polluters

Magazine article The Progressive

Policing Corporate Polluters

Article excerpt

Paterson, New Jersey

In January, the nation's first "right-to-act" law went into effect. The measure gives the 494,000 residents of Passaic County, New Jersey, the right to establish neighborhood committees to conduct on-site surveys of facilities they suspect may pose environmental health threats.

Passaic County is home to the Heterene Chemical Company and many other businesses that use toxic chemicals. On June 12, a toxic cloud drifted from Heterene to a nearby public school, forcing the emergency evacuation of 620 people, according to The Record, a local newspaper. Fifty-three students and five adults were hospitalized.

Heterene, which makes pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, is one of about 170 chemical plants in New Jersey subject to special inspections by the state Department of Environmental Protection because it uses highly hazardous materials.

Although the department had inspected Heterene at least ten times since 1993, inspectors missed the fact that the company did not have a permit to use the extremely hazardous chemical known as Cresol--the chemical that wafted over the Paterson school. Inspectors also overlooked the haphazard storage of 1,100 drums of toxic substances, some of which were leaking and deteriorating. Several state and county agencies are conducting criminal investigations of the company. No results have been announced.

The new law allows twenty-five or more neighbors or employees to petition the county health officer for creation of a Neighborhood Hazard Prevention Advisory Committee to monitor specific facilities. …

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