The production and use of hazardous and potentially hazardous substances is vast. They are used in production processes and household products in enormous quantities everywhere. From there they are released to the environment and eventually find their way into our food, water and air, ending up in our bodies. Still, very few persons have access to basic information and data about these substances. Citizens have no idea where hazardous substances are used or what hazard they represent, thus having no way of judging what they are exposing themselves to or how to avoid it.In a modern society this would be unacceptable in other sectors. But again – chemicals policy is different. Companies producing or using chemical substances want to keep them secret, allegedly for reasons of competition, and authorities have agreed. Presumably, the producers also have other reasons to keep their secrets out of the public eye. The general public is kept ignorant. The Right to know principle intends to make government or corporate data and records available to the public or to those individuals with a particular interest in the information.
Aside from common sense and democratic principles, this is important also for the development of a chemicals policy aiming at the elimination of hazardous substances. Experience shows that citizens care about their health and the environment, and if they have access to information, they choose safer products. This behaviour could be a very strong incentive for the companies using chemicals to choose safer alternatives when they produce their products.
Citizens must be given the right to know the facts about the products available in society so they can make an informed choice. The information needs to be readily accessible on products and through databases. Basic components of a modern chemicals policy:
- Based on hazard – not risk
- Takes a precautionary approach, letting the Precautionary, Substitution, Polluter pays and Right to know principles be operative.