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Chemical Accidents, Uninformed Public
May Be Greater Threats Than Terrorism

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Chemical Accidents, Uninformed Public
May Be Greater Threats Than Terrorism


WASHINGTON -- One week before a deadline set nearly a decade ago, the administration and Congress are still working on how to tell the public about potential chemical disasters without handing terrorists a new tool.

Environmental groups said Monday that chemical facilities are doing little to reduce dangers to local communities and that, with 85 million Americans living within five miles of a chemical facility and 250 dying from accidents every year, withholding this information was a greater threat than the danger of terrorism.

Restrictions on the right to know are "a thinly veiled effort to prevent public accountability," Allison LaPlante of U.S. Public Interest Research Group said.

The 1990 Clean Air Act requires 66,000 facilities using or making toxic chemicals to give the Environmental Protection Agency by June 21, 1999, a Risk Management Plan, including a "worst-case chemical action" scenario.

But the EPA -- at the urging of the FBI, the Justice Department and members of Congress -- agreed last September that it would be a national security risk to put on the Internet worst-case scenario information that outlines the likely effects of a chemical disaster on a community.

In May, the administration sent to Congress legislation that would ensure that communities, particularly safety officials, would have access to the information, but that individuals would not be able to get electronic databases on chemical-plant dangers.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley, R-Va., is still trying to work out the details of that bill. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has his own bill pending in the Senate.

� Copyright 1999, The Salt Lake Tribune

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