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Farewell To A Safety Champion

Congress: New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, chemical safety and environmental advocate, dies at 89

by Cheryl Hogue , Jeff Johnson
June 7, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 23

Credit: Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call/Newscom
Lautenberg spoke in May 2012 at a news conference on TSCA reform.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., holds a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol on the Safe Chemical Act, which would update the "Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976." To support the bill, "Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families" rallied moms, nurses, and cancer survivors to participate in a stroller brigade throughout the Capitol complex. May 22, 2012.
Credit: Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call/Newscom
Lautenberg spoke in May 2012 at a news conference on TSCA reform.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who since the 1980s fought for legislation aimed at ensuring the safety of chemicals and the chemical industry, died on June 3 at age 89.

Hailing from a state with a robust chemical industry, Lautenberg long advocated preventing and preparing for chemical accidents.

In the wake of the deadly 1984 methyl isocyanate leak at the Bhopal, India, Union Carbide plant, Lautenberg coauthored the Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act.

The act’s goal, he said in 1988, “is to develop a national emergency planning infrastructure for chemical accidents, designed to plan for and prevent chemical emergencies” as well as “give citizens the right to know what chemicals are being stored in and emitted into their communities.” The law’s provisions include the annual Toxics Release Inventory, through which industry publicly reports its emissions.

Lautenberg also authored sections of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, which were designed to protect communities from chemical accidents and discover their cause. The provisions require firms to prepare risk-management plans that include worst-case accident scenarios and created the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board to ferret out the cause of chemical accidents.

More recently, Lautenberg pushed for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), which governs the manufacture of commercial chemicals. Starting in 2005, he introduced legislation to modernize TSCA. His legislation cleared committee last year but failed to reach the Senate floor. Less than two weeks before his death, Lautenberg joined forces with Republican leaders and introduced TSCA reform legislation (S. 1009), which industry and others hail as a political breakthrough (see page 22).

Lautenberg also introduced legislation opposed by the chemical industry, such as a plant security bill requiring some 4,600 “high risk” chemical facilities to assess so-called inherently safer technologies—a switch to safer chemicals or processes.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) last week appointed Jeffrey S. Chiesa, the state’s attorney general, to fill Lautenberg’s seat until a special election in October.



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