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EPA decides not to disclose accident risks on Internet

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EPA decides not to disclose accident risks on Internet 11/30/98 WASHINGTON, D.C.--At the urging of federal law enforcement agencies, the…

EPA decides not to disclose accident risks on Internet

11/30/98

WASHINGTON, D.C.–At the urging of federal law enforcement agencies, the chemical industry and Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency will not fully disclose on the Internet the risks it determines could occur from possible chemical accidents.

The EPA wrote Congress in early November that, in spite of the recommendations of a federal advisory panel, it will not post information analyzing off-site consequences of possible chemical accidents. The panel had suggested that the agency use the Internet as a conduit for public access to all data from its Risk Management Programs, as the easiest way to get the information before the public.

In late October, Bliley asked EPA Administrator Carol Browner for “a list of all non-governmental entities (or individuals) that have stated, suggested, or indicated to EPA that they intend to disseminate” facility plans on their own public Internet sites even if the EPA were to decide not to make the plans public.

The agency noted that the FBI, CIA, Department of Defense and Department of Justice had urged it to keep those data off the Internet. The FBI said in a letter that posting the information would allow terrorists to scan the country for the best targets.

Under the Clean Air Act of 1990, the EPA is required to gather and make public risk management plans from nearly 66,000 facilities around the country that deal with toxic chemicals, including 1,500 chemical plants.

The plans must contain detailed information about potential chemical releases. Under the law, local governments must make plans for chemical accidents based on the information they receive through the EPA database.

“The real problem is not terrorism but the hazards themselves,” according to Paul Orum, coordinator of the Working Group on Community Right to Know in Washington, D.C., and a member of the EPA advisory group.

Orum, who called a meeting of several environmental protection groups in mid-November to discuss the new policy against Internet postings, said that the disclosures under the Clean Air Act had led to safer facilities.

A letter signed by environmental protection groups and labor representatives stated:

“Journalists, researchers, advocates and other individuals who communicate and publish on the Internet and other electronic media do not bring chemical hazards into communities; rather, chemical-using industries bring such hazards . . . and must take responsibility for doing so.”

The EPA noted that all other risk management data, including facility accident history, emergency response and accident prevention data, would still be available via the Internet. State and local governments would also be able to obtain information about the assessment of possible off-site consequences.