Disclosure of EPA cleanup records does not violate personal privacy
PENNSYLVANIA–Names and addresses of persons in Palmerton and Aquashicola who allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to take measures to reduce lead, zinc and cadmium in the soil are public under the federal Freedom of Information Act, and their release does not cause an unwarranted intrusion on personal privacy, a federal District Court in Philadelphia ruled in mid-November.
Since June 1994 Viacom International, which may be financially responsible for some of the cleanup, has tried to get information on the Palmerton Zinc Superfund Site from the agency. EPA initially denied results of its sampling at 25 homes, saying that disclosure could cause the homeowners to be harassed or threatened and that fear of reprisals could cause them not to participate in the cleanups due them under federal law. The agency ignored a written appeal of the denial.
After Viacom sued for the information in April 1995, the agency argued that the information was exempt under privacy exemptions to the FOI Act.
However, the judge rejected that argument, holding that the denied information involved property, not persons. Disclosure would not infringe on any privacy interest of the homeowners, but disclosure of the locations where soil samples were taken would further the purposes of the FOI Act in informing citizens about the operations of the government, he said.
Through a series of mergers, Viacom International is potentially liable for cleanup at the site which has been on the environmental agency’s National Priorities List since 1983 and which was partially cleaned up through use of monies from the Superfund. (Viacom International v. EPA; Requester’s attorney: John McAleese, Philadelphia)