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
- 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
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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