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Eugene Toxics Reporting Law Challenged Again

A manufacturer is forming a lawsuit against Eugene’s voter-approved Toxics Right-to-Know (TRK) program because he is upset about paying an annual $2,000 fee. Advocates for the program say the community TRK law is a key element in making public health decisions. 

Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics serves on the Eugene Toxics Board as a community advocate. She says people who breathe the air, drink the water around businesses and use products manufactured with hazardous substances have the right to know about the chemicals. She says when the U.S. first started looking into regulating chemicals and protecting human health, the first goal was to know what humans are being exposed to. 

Arkin says Eugene’s reporting program is more detailed than information collected by the federal government. Beyond Toxics used the TRK database in an environmental justice project showing, among other things, the proximity of west Eugene schools to companies emitting toxic chemicals.

However, Rich Lock of Mid-Valley Metals wants to overturn the city charter that allows fees to fund the TRK program. Lock’s 40-employee sheet metal company relocated to Eugene last year from Springfield.

“I’m trying to get enough momentum to turn it over to an attorney,” Lock says of his contention with the fee. “He’s already said if we can get enough people, we will file a suit against the city and he’ll take it from there.”

The Eugene Toxics Right-to-Know program, started in 1996, has two categories of manufacturers: those within the city limits with 10 or more full-time employees using more than 2,640 pounds of hazardous substances per year and those that use less than 2,640 pounds of chemicals. Both categories must pay a fee, but only those using more than 2,640 pounds of chemicals are required to file reports with TRK.

 Lock’s Mid-Valley Metals is one of the companies not required to submit a report, but must still pay an annual fee, even if it uses no toxic chemicals in its manufacturing. If these companies do use hazardous substances, they do not report them. There are currently 33 reporting businesses and 51 non-reporting businesses. 

TRK board member Christine Zeller-Powell says the program in the past year sent out a survey asking businesses if they use toxic chemicals in their manufacturing. Zeller-Powell says she suspects Lock filled out the survey indicating Mid-Valley Metals does use some toxic chemicals, which is why TRK’s program manager added his company to the non-reporting list when he moved the company to Eugene last year. Lock says his company doesn’t use toxic chemicals.

 “I don’t think he understands how the program works, and that’s where his confusion is coming from,” Zeller-Powell says. 

Lock says he believes the city is charging manufacturing companies that don’t use toxic chemicals because the fees from the 33 reporting companies aren’t enough to cover the cost of the TRK program. 

Arkin says of the fee structure, “I find that the original intent of the ordinance has been compromised by all the lawsuits filed against it by industry interests,” adding that such suits make it “difficult to administer the law in a way true to the original intent and fair to manufacturers.” Previous lawsuits by business interests altered the way TRK fees are assessed. 

Lock, who spoke at City Council and the TRK board meeting in December, says he wants to know how many of the other 51 non-reporting businesses in Eugene are also not using hazardous chemicals in their manufacturing. He wants to call owners on the TRK list of 51 non-reporting businesses in Eugene and he hopes to unite with other business owners upset about fees.

“The people really paying the bill are the people who aren’t doing anything,” Lock says. 

Other businesses on the non-reporting list that still pay fees include the The Register-Guard, Falling Sky Brewing, Ninkasi Brewing Co., Green Gear Cycling and Griffith Rubber Mills.