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Right-To-Know Nothing
Fair Use Statement

Working Group on Community Right-to-Know
218 D Street, SE * Washington, DC 20003

Press Release
April 27, 2000

Contact: Paul Orum
(202) 544-9586

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 communities.

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 spills.

"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," Orum said.

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 buffer zones."

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 pollution.

# 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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