Industry Response to 1986 FOIA Amendment

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has transformed how the public engages with previously unreleased documents from corporations, government, and other agencies since it was enacted in 1967. While national agencies and organizations tend to file the most FOIA requests, individuals are also able to obtain documents of interest from the U.S. government. For example, hundreds of documents shared on ToxicDocs were obtained through FOIA requests which have been critically important in environmental health lawsuits, research, and practice.

Below, we are highlighting a 1986 document from Vista Chemical Company on their response to new legislation amending the Freedom of Information Act called the "Freedom of Information Reform Act of 1986" signed into law by former president Ronald Reagan in 1986.


Under the subtitle “New Law Extends Protection of Trade Secrets,” the document reads: “Legislation amending the Freedom of Information Act to give businesses greater protection for trade secrets and other confidential information submitted to the federal government has been signed into law by President Reagan. The new law establishes procedures for determining whether the federal government can release business information designed as confidential. Essentially, it requires that companies be notified when an organization or individual files an FOIA request for their business records.”


The document also notes the new amendment "was favored strongly by industry and opposed by public interest groups, which claimed it would delay release of much information that should be public,” indicating schisms between industry and advocacy groups over FOIA protocol.

In the context of recent fines brought against companies like Union Carbide and Chrysler by OSHA for alleged recordkeeping violations and “willful” failure to maintain accurate records about employee injuries, this new FOIA law had consequential implications for reporting around occupational health. Despite OSHA's attempts to hold coorporations accountable, industry now had more control over what information was able to be shared with the public under the pretense of protecting trade secrets.


Check out the full document linked here!