Fair Use Statement
Working Group on Community Right-to-Know
218 D Street, SE * Washington, DC 20003
April 27, 2000
Contact: Paul Orum
The Clinton Administration is announcing new rules
that severely restrict the public's right-to-know if
toxic spills and fires at chemical plants can harm
people who live, work, or go to school in surrounding
At the same time, the Administration has failed to
even begin a Congressionally mandated site security
study of chemical plants that is intended to make sure
that industries take real steps to prevent such
"The Administration's policy of secrecy plus inaction
makes no sense," said Paul Orum, director of the
Working Group on Community Right-to-Know. "This is a
know-nothing, do-nothing response to dangerous
practices in the chemical industry."
"By restricting information without improving
site-security and safety, the Administration makes it
hard for citizens to hold their government and
industry accountable, while leaving communities
vulnerable to dangerous chemical industry practices,"
Chemical fires and spills kill some 250 Americans each
year. For this reason, Congress included in the Clean
Air Act of 1990 a major new prevention program. In
this program, the public won the right-to-know what
could happen in a "worst-case" chemical accident at an
industrial facility. The requirement followed the
successful 1986 Right to Know Act that disclosed many
manufacturers' toxic pollution on the Internet.
Public disclosure is intended to save lives, prevent
pollution, and protect property.
Last year, however, Congress responded to claims first
raised by the Chemical Manufacturers Association that
disclosing hazards on the Internet would make chemical
plants vulnerable to criminal activity. Congress
instructed the Administration to assess the benefits
and costs of public disclosure and to establish public
access rules. Congress also directed the Department
of Justice to study ways to improve site security at
chemical plants. However, the Administration has not
even begun this site security study. An interim
report is due in August 2000.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
has found that site security at chemical facilities
ranges from fair to very poor.
"Keeping information off the Internet will not protect
communities," Orum said. "Instead of fighting the
Internet, companies should use safer chemicals, add
fail-safe equipment, improve site security, and widen
Many facilities worst-case scenarios are already on
the Internet (at ). In addition, people
can identify chemical plants from direct observation,
the telephone book, satellite images, trade
publications, industry public relations events, common
sense, and other sources without using the Internet.
The U.S. EPA has clear legal authority under the Clean
Air Act to compel chemical companies to reduce
chemical hazards in communities. However, the agency
has never used this authority. In a 1999 survey,
environmental groups found that only one out of 170
chemical plants surveyed had publicly announced a
measurable goal and timeline for reducing the zone of
vulnerability in which people nearby could be hurt or
killed in a worst-case chemical fire or spill.
Note to Reporters and Editors:
* Top U.S. facilities storing Bhopal-scale
amounts of extremely hazardous chemicals are listed in
"Chemical Accident Report" at http://www.pirg.org/chemical/.
* Many facilities' chemical accident scenarios
are already on the Internet at http://www.rtk.net/ (see
executive summaries of Risk Management Plans).
* Further background on chemical accident
hazards is at http://www.rtk.net/wcs.
The Working Group on Community Right-to-Know is a
national activist network concerned with the public's
right-to-know about chemical hazards and toxic
# END #
Working Group on Community Right-to-Know
218 D Street, SE; Washington, DC 20003
Phone: 202-544-9586; Fax: 202-546-2461
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