The wood filler epoxy I used to repair the window frames on my house have a strong, stinging odor. The product instructions warn that the material is highly toxic and has been designed for use outdoors or in well-ventilated situations indoors. When the epoxy is cured and set-up, the instructions advise that when sanding or filing the material that a mask or ventilator be used in order to avoid inhaling the resulting dust. When working with the substance, the manufacturer recommends wearing gloves.
I heed the directions and warnings to the letter. The ingredients are highly toxic. Even when used in the outdoors to repair the house, the fumes are quite noticeable. Anyone who has ever used such products such as “Bondo” for autobody repair or wood fillers understands the need for taking safety measures.
Similar warnings are present on substances used in industrial and commercial applications. The implications of toxic substances used on a large scale pose significant risks to communities, land, and wildlife. It is the danger posed by toxins in industrial plants, other work areas, and communities that is covered by the “Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act”. Knowledge about such substances is important for emergency planning and response to chemical accidents. The law recognizes the right for cities, organizations, industry to have information regarding possible chemical hazards in and near their communities.
By extension, there are many situations that do not involve chemical risks or the need for standard safety equipment, yet may intersect with a citizen’s right to know. This regards the right of access to data and policies that government agencies have that affect people. The access of such information is vital for the preservation and enjoyment of human and civil rights, in general terms.
To obtain this type of information requires a little more effort than just reading product warnings on a container. In the United States, we have the Freedom of Information Act. We are entitled to have access to federal information and records in most instances. There are exemptions regarding national defense, law enforcement records and the like. Although the Freedom of Information Act covers only the federal government, there are also “sunshine laws” that protect our right to know in most states along with many counties and cities.
That said, the federal act does not require any agency to perform research for citizen inquiries. Anyone needing specific information is advised to do the legwork themselves. This enables more efficient acquisition of non-protected information and records from specific agencies.
Many nations have very similar laws regarding the right to know. The idea is to allow citizens to important information to enable accountability and transparency in government. When citizens have access to documents, public involvement in the democratic process of decision and policy making are improved.
I mention this information because today is “International Right To Know Day”. Today, an annual awards ceremony takes place in Bulgaria. There are four awards for contributions to freedom of information and two awards that admonish harmful practices and policies that disrespect the right to know.
Activists around the world have organized local events to take place today to raise awareness of our right to know. Many activists advocate for the right to vital information from governments and corporations regarding health, safety, human rights and civil rights. Open societies, governments, and corporations enable better citizen and consumer empowerment and participation. Increased knowledge about social institutions like government and industry help ensure better societies.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics recipient, Niels Bohr. “The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.”