In the late 1970s, the cancer death rate in the heavily industrial Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Bridesburg was twice the national average.
Alarmed neighbors organized and teamed with PhilaPOSH, the Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health, then a fledgling union and foundation funded worker safety group led by founder Rick Engler.
On Friday, Engler, of Glen Rock, N.J., will be honored by PhilaPOSH at its 40th anniversary awards banquet partly for the outgrowth of that collaboration.
In 1981, the city passed the Philadelphia Worker and Community Right to Know ordinance, the first of its kind, which granted citizens the right to know what chemicals were being used by the companies doing business in their neighborhoods.
The act became a template for similar laws passed in states and regions around the nation, particularly in New Jersey, where Engler moved to lead the New Jersey Work Environmental Council.
In 2014, he left the council when President Obama appointed him to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates chemical accidents.
"Rick was really the brilliant visionary architect on this who saw the need to connect worker safety and right to know and environmental safety and community safety," Barbara Rahke, PhilaPOSH director said.
"The premise was that if the workers were made safe, the community would be safe too," she said.
Others that will be honored are Eileen Senn, for her writing to make industrial hygiene useful to working people; Philadelphia city risk manager Barry Scott; Bricklayers and Allied Workers Local 1 President Dennis Pagliotti for his work on reducing silica dust; AFL-CIO Bucks County Central Labor Council president Tom Tosti for advocating for criminal prosecution of employers who run dangerous workplaces and Javier Garcia Hernandez, for his outreach to the Hispanic community on workplace safety.