The Community and Hazardous Waste Lee Bell BA MA (Ecologically Sustainable Development) My various hats… • Spokesperson for the Contaminated Sites Alliance • Adviser to Greenpeace Australia-Pacific on toxics • NECF rep on toxics issues for Federal processes • Occasional lecturer on science, policy and democracy issues at Murdoch University. • Co-Chair of the Core Consultative Committee on Waste. Providing advice to government on new and better hazardous waste treatment facilities for WA What we do Provide strategic advice to community groups grappling with: • Contaminated sites • Industrial emissions • Workplace exposures • Biocide use • Promote environmental justice through reform of environmental health policy The ongoing problem… Controversy over hazardous waste is not simply a rational technical problem or a ‘science problem’ because it is located within a socio-political landscape that dictates what is acceptable in our community. This changes with time. The barrier to solutions A fundamental disconnect between science, policy and democracy in a chemically contaminated environment. The Dark Art of Risk Assessment We currently have a policy framework for chemical products and wastes that asks how much of a single chemical can a human tolerate? What we should be asking as a society is do we really need this chemical (are there non-toxic alternatives) or how do we prevent it from entering the community? (in the case of contaminated sites). 1 in a million – The myth of acceptable risk. Risk that is imposed by others for the profit of others is rarely considered acceptable risk! When parents living on the fence line of a contaminated site notice their children develop rashes, blood noses and breathing problems whenever dust blows off the site – the most common institutional response is to conduct a health risk assessment and assure the family that the risk is acceptable. This is where the parent’s hermeneutic world and HRA’s theoretical world collide. The result is ongoing socio-political conflict. New risks – old assessments Recent discoveries about the behaviour of chemicals create unacceptable uncertainty in traditional toxicology based health risk assessments. Traditional RA does not: • assess chemical mixtures which is the norm in real life. • assess the endocrine disruption potential of single or multiple chemicals. • focus on the potential for, immune system dysfunction (both hyper and hypo-active); neurological, cognitive and behavioural effects; reproductive dysfunctions and chronic diseases. Toward Solutions - Science • Reduced reliance of QRA/HRA in favour of clinical epidemiology and alternatives assessment. • Full disclosure of the limitations and uncertainty inherent in the environmental science and risk assessment paradigm. • Improved medical recognition of adverse chemical impacts and training in standardized diagnostic protocols for chemical injury. Toward Solutions – Policy • Mandated clean production standards (processes). • Mandated industrial design responsibility (products). • Reverse onus of proof in safety assessment for new and existing chemicals. • Hazardous Waste regulation and enforcement serving the public interest not vested interests. Toward solutions - Democracy Stronger participatory processes for the public in: • Planning matters that affect environmental health and may lead to environmental injustice. • Environmental assessments for new and existing proposals (to prevent problems from arising). • Community consultation over contaminated sites and controversial industrial emissions (to help solve existing problems). Toward solutions - Democracy • The community requires strong Right To Know Legislation to allow public access to all industrial risk contours, environmental monitoring data and emissions data for industry and contaminated sites. • The need for procedural justice in engagement processes has become paramount as community trust in government, industry and their paid experts has evaporated over issues like Bellevue and Brookdale. • The community has a basic right to know how much hazardous waste is being created, treated and disposed of, as well as who creates it and where these activities occur. Procedural justice Requires that community representatives have an equal say in the manner that engagement processes are structured and run. Common complaints arise over process manipulation, committee stacking and collusion between government and industry. In an era of consultation fatigue and stakeholder distrust communities also require resources to access independent technical advise, peer reviews of crucial reports and resources to attend the process itself. Taking the ‘hazard’ out of the community Less talking - more action. The community is demanding political leadership and industrial responsibility to ensure that hazardous waste in the community becomes a historical anachronism for our kids to read about disapprovingly at school. The community is willing to make changes to achieve this but cannot do it alone – we need systemic change to achieve this goal.