The fight to protect industrial workers from chemical contamination – and the underlying issues of economic inequality

In communities around the country, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is up against a growing group of workers who say their employers failed to protect them from the occupational cancer hazards they were exposed…

The fight to protect industrial workers from chemical contamination – and the underlying issues of economic inequality

In communities around the country, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is up against a growing group of workers who say their employers failed to protect them from the occupational cancer hazards they were exposed to during their jobs. Many of these workers have filed lawsuits and filed the Green Liferoses Promise Contaminant Disclosure Lawsuit in federal court, making a determination about what chemicals are tied to this serious health crisis that can be traced back generations.

Billions of dollars have been spent on many of these toxic chemical preservatives, which are often called furniture fragrances and suspended in the air when these products are sold. In a food service industry where our workdays can go from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., we lived with these chemicals all day.

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In many areas of the country, there are serious contaminants in the air and in the water that are dangerous to humans. In New York City, that contamination is coming from cancer-causing organic and inorganic chemicals in the atrazine pesticide used for years. And in Los Angeles, where there is an EPA study underway, workers allege contaminants are in the water supply being used by some of the area’s poorest communities and the actual groundwater.

We need a safer system for the unionized workers who are charged with policing companies in America who manufacture these chemical preservatives. Currently, several lawsuits against large chemical manufacturers are currently being litigated, and these are allegations against major corporations who are accused of not disclosing to their customers a broad range of well-known toxic chemicals that have been linked to several types of cancers. We’re fighting the same fight.

Workers would be better off if their bosses actually had to come clean and notify employees of these chemicals and whether or not they are in their workplaces. The EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory database is not what it should be.

“The TDE does not have an accurate or complete list of chemicals, and it does not specifically identify chemicals that are under suspicion for specific cancers or other health effects,” said Asli Zgig, a toxicologist with Change to Win who is also one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation. “Labor unions and environmental justice groups would prefer to work collaboratively with chemical companies to develop a more complete list and better disclosure regime. Right now, many of the chemicals in the TDE are known to be used in workers’ workplaces, and they’re widely exposed to, so they should be required to disclose them or join the Freedom of Information Act.”

Workers in the American Chemical Society’s Liability Review Committee, which has held hearings examining these toxic chemicals, “continue to tell us that they have difficulty accessing information on the exact chemicals that have harmed their health,” said Sean Kolker, a senior fellow with the Center for Genetics and Society and co-director of the Skuldemore Center at McGill University. “That’s no way to run an effective work environment.”

Learn more on the Green Liferoses website and The Herd which is dedicated to the many ways industrial farming affects the environment and to the lives of families like the Kolker’s across the country.

Brendan Trioli is a national field director for Change to Win, the AFL-CIO’s network of 10 million workers, more than 175 national unions and more than 200 local unions throughout the U.S.

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