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JUNE 14, 1999  10:00 AM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT:
US Public Interest Research Group
Allison LaPlante, Paul Orum, 202-546-9707
Mike Newman, 202-675-7917
Report Finds That Few Chemical Plants Plan To Reduce Disaster Zones; Finding Comes as Industry Lobbies Congress to Revoke Americans’ Right-to-Know about Potential Chemical Accidents
 
WASHINGTON - June 14 - As the chemical industry furiously lobbies Congress to restrict public access to information about potential chemical disasters, a survey released today found that 99 percent of chemical facilities contacted had no plan to reduce the hazards they pose to local communities. Only two out of the 175 chemical facilities contacted had a measurable goal and timeline for reducing their worst-case disaster zone, according to the report, At Risk and In the Dark, released today by U.S. PIRG, Sierra Club, and Working Group on Community Right to Know.

In response to the industry’s poor showing in the survey, the groups challenged companies that handle hazardous chemicals to set both a measurable goal and a specific timeline to eliminate or reduce the area in which people near chemical plants could be hurt or killed in a worst-case chemical fire or spill.

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments require thousands of industrial users of toxic chemicals to disclose a potential “worst-case chemical accident” scenario as part of a larger Risk Management Plan (RMP) by June 21, 1999. However, the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) and others are making a last-ditch push for legislation to gut the right-to-know provision of the program.

“We asked chemical companies what they plan to do to reduce chemical disaster zones in our communities,” said Allison LaPlante of U.S. PIRG. “Unfortunately, the answer is nothing, despite the fact that more than 250 Americans die every year in chemical accidents. Instead, industry lobbyists are working to keep the public in the dark.”

“The chemical industry’s effort to rescind the public’s right to know comes under the guise of preventing terrorist attacks,” said Sierra Club Conservation Organizer Mike Newman. “The chemical industry and their Congressional supporters say these bills will protect the American public. In reality, their efforts only protect the chemical industry from public scrutiny.”

To help prevent chemical accidents, Congress included vital right-to-know provisions in the RMP program. Through public disclosure, Congress intended to help communities prevent pollution, save lives, and protect property. The chemical industry argues that keeping the right-to-know information off the Internet is necessary to prevent terrorists from targeting their facilities. None of the 600,000 chemical accidents reported to the federal government between 1987 and 1996 was the result of terrorism.

“The chemical industry has lobbied to keep the American public from getting a complete, national picture of communities at risk,” said Paul Orum of the Working Group on Community Right to Know. “We need nationwide information on potential worst-case chemical releases to hold government and industry accountable for progress in reducing chemical hazards.”

Legislation pending in Congress would limit public access to worst-case scenario information. If passed, any state or local employee who distributed the information to the public would be sent to prison. Thus, even if fire departments are told about accident potentials to prepare for a disaster, firefighters who tell the community about evacuation scenarios would be sent to jail.

To reduce chemical accidents and toxic pollution in the United States, U.S. PIRG, Working Group on Community Right-to-Know, and Sierra Club recommend the following:

1. The Clinton Administration and Congress should honor the public's right-to-know by making readily accessible to the public a complete, national database of Risk Management Plan (RMP) information, including worst-case chemical accident scenarios.

2. CMA member companies should accept the hazard reduction challenge and declare by what percent and by what year they will reduce their worst-case vulnerability zones.

3. Industries should put Inherent Safety first by using safer technologies that eliminate or reduce the possibility of a chemical accident.

4. Industries should take additional steps to safeguard communities where necessary by improving site security, adding safety equipment, hardening facilities, and establishing buffer zones.

5. The Clinton Administration and Congress should broaden the Toxics Release Inventory to help citizens, government, and industry obtain full information on toxic chemicals used in commerce.

“It is time for Congress, the Clinton Administration, and the chemical industry to set aside the false choice between protecting potential victims of terrorism and protecting the known victims of chemical accidents,” said Allison LaPlante of U.S. PIRG. “Instead, all parties must join together behind real and meaningful steps to reduce the hazards that chemical-using facilities bring into our communities. We urge all CMA companies to accept the hazard reduction challenge.”

U.S. PIRG, Sierra Club and Working Group on Community Right-to Know conducted a telephone survey of 175 chemical facilities during June, 1999. A copy of this report will be available on the PIRG web site: www.pirg.org

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