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Post 9/11 Age of Missing Information

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<-- Terrorism and Industrial Chemicals

This is a list of environmental reports, data, maps and information that have been taken offline or made unavailable since September 11, 2001. I have built upon the list provided by OMB Watch. If you know of other items that should be on this list, or if you find that something listed here is now online in the same or different form, please contact me at meuser@mapcruzin.com. Thank You.


Washington Post article "Chemical Plants Are Feared as Targets" published on December 15, 2001 was subsequently taken offline. Update: It has been brought to our attention that this story is online at MSNBC.com. Update 2: It is becoming difficult to keep up with the frequent changes. After two days, the Washington Post article is online again. It can be viewed at here.

The Landview IV website now says, "Access to the LandView demonstration file and the sale of the LandView product have been withdrawn temporarily as part of a government wide review of national security." The Landview IV project is a joint project of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The program allows users to browse, map and query records extracted from the Environmental Protection Agency's Envirofacts Warehouse, demographic statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau's Decennial Census, and the USGS Geographic Names Information System.

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U.S. Geological Survey removed nuclear facility maps from their National Atlas of the United States website.

The State PIRG felt the post 9/11 "chill" and removed their report, "Accidents Waiting to Happen," from their website. It examines chemical facilities in the U.S. storing chemicals defined by the EPA as 'extremely hazardous substances' due to their high accident hazard. The report found that 4,860 U.S. facilities store these hazardous chemicals in larger quantities than were released at Bhopal. The website offered state by state hazardous chemical information.

On Oct. 12th, the Federal Depository Libraries received a request, on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey's Associate Director for Water, to destroy all copies of a CD-ROM publication: Source area characteristics of large public surface water supplies I 19.76:99-248 USGS Open-File Report no. 99-248

The U.S. Geological Survey has removed a number of its reports on water resources. Follow this link, and do a keyword search using the word "removed," and you will see a number of documents that are now unavailable.

NASA Glenn Research Center has limited its web access to the public. Its homepage includes the message, "Public access to many of our web sites is temporarily limited. We apologize for any inconvenience." NASA Watch received an email from an unnamed NASA employee that read, "Just wanted to let you know that the entire NASA Glenn Research Center webpage has been offline since Friday, Oct 19. We can access the pages online but nothing is visible to the outside. Even the computer services folks who keep us up to date on stuff like this are being tight-lipped. Seems people who are complaining are being told to talk to the center director, Don Campbell and that the decision to 'turn Glenn off' was made by him..."

The International Nuclear Safety Center has removed interactive maps from its site. These maps allowed users to click on a location of a nuclear power plant to learn more about it. Follow this link and you will receive the following message: "If you requested access to the maps of nuclear power reactor locations, these maps have been taken off-line temporarily pending the outcome of a policy review by the US Department of Energy and Argonne National Laboratory."

The Los Alamos National Laboratory has removed information from its web site. A number of reports have been removed from the Los Alamos site. Follow any number of links from this page, and you will receive the message, "We are unable to fill your request at this time. If you are trying to obtain a technical report please send email to reports@lanl.gov with the report number, your name, address, phone number, email. Thank you for your patience." Try viewing the "Los Alamos Unclassified Publications Database" from this page, and nothing is retrieved.

The site for the National Transportation of Radioactive Materials at DOE has been completely removed. Following this link, you will receive the message, "This site temporarily unavailable. Please contact Bobby Sanchez at 505-845-5541 if you have any questions."

The state of New Jersey has removed chemical information from its web site. New Jersey is now withholding Internet access to information -- collected under its Community Right-to-Know Survey -- on 30,000 private sector facilities that must report on chemical storage, including quantities and types of containers, for about 1,000 to 1,200 different chemicals. This information had been available online for about 18 months. Firefighters were increasingly using this data, accessing it on the way to fires.

Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memorandum on October 12 urging federal agencies to exercise greater caution in disclosing information requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The memo affirms the Justice Dept.'s commitment to "full compliance with the Freedom of Information Act," but then immediately states it is "equally committed to protecting other fundamental values that are held by our society. Among them are safeguarding our national security, enhancing the effectiveness of our law enforcement agencies, protecting sensitive business information and, not least, preserving personal privacy." This new policy supersedes a 1993 memorandum from then-Attorney General Janet Reno that promoted disclosure of government information under FOIA unless it was "reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would be harmful." This standard of "foreseeable harm" is dropped in the Ashcroft memo. Instead, Ashcroft advises,"When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis..."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has removed documents that detail the specifications for energy facilities from its web site. According to a note posted to the Commission's site, "The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America have prompted the Commission to reconsider its treatment of certain documents that have previously been made available to the public through the Commission's Internet site... The Commission does not know how long this process will stay in place, and directs staff to report on its impact on agency business in 90 days. In the meantime, staff is also directed to make every effort to respond timely to legitimate requests for documents that have been made available to the public previously but that are no longer available through the means noted above."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission completely shut down its web site, and more recently restored "select content." The NRC posted a note to its site on Oct. 11, saying "Our site is not operational at this time. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken the action to shut down its web site. In support of our mission to protect public health and safety, we are performing a review of all material on our site. We appreciate your patience and understanding during these difficult times."

The state of Pennsylvania has decided to remove environmental information from its web site. Pennsylvania's site hosts, or used to host, environmental data on things such as water and air quality, as well as mining operations and soil conditions. This data was removed shortly before Sept. 11 for server maintenance, according to the Oct. 5 Allentown Morning Call. Now, following the attacks, the state is planning to withhold some information previously available, though at the moment it is not saying what that data will be.

The state of Florida is withholding public access to information on crop dusters and certain driver's license information, and the state legislature may convene new closed committees to prepare for possible terrorism, according to this article.

Risk Management Plans, which provide information about the dangers of chemical accidents and how to prevent them, have been removed from the EPA web site. EPA has removed from its web site Risk Management Plans (RMP) that are collected under the Section 112(r) of the Clear Air Act. These plans provide three elements about chemicals being used in plants: a hazard assessment, a prevention program, and an emergency response plan.

RMPs created an enormous controversy two years ago when the first round of data was to be posted to the Internet. One section of the RMP provided an Offsite Consequence Analysis (OCA) that required chemical companies to describe what could happen under worst case scenarios. Needless to say, chemical companies did not want to disclose that nearby families were living or working by a place that could seriously injure or kill them. With encouragement from the chemical manufacturers, the FBI noted that posting the OCA data on the Internet would increase the chances of a terrorist attack. Congress quickly followed suit with a law to prohibit government from posting the OCA data unless the President decided otherwise. Accordingly, EPA posted the RMP, minus the OCA, to its web site. With extremely narrow permissions, the law and proposed subsequent regulations allowed the public to go to designated reading rooms where they could review, but not copy, a select number of the OCAs. Nonetheless, through RTK NET (the Right-to-Know Network), OMB Watch provided executive summaries of RMPs, many of which included OCA data.

Both the FBI and Congress have acknowledged that disclosure through the Internet of the remainder of the RMP information presented no unique increased threats of terrorism. This is why EPA's decision to remove the entire RMP is quite startling. However, conservatives and chemical companies have launched a renewed campaign to limit access to the RMP data.

Click here for more background information about "worst case scenarios."

Pipeline mapping has been removed from the Department of Transportation web site. The Office of Pipeline Safety within the Department of Transportation has posted a note to its web site saying that they “have discontinued providing open access to the National Pipeline Mapping System.” (See http://www.npms.rspa.dot.gov/data/npms_data_down.htm.) Because of new security concerns about critical infrastructure systems, they will only provide pipeline data to pipeline operators, and federal, state and local government officials. The Wall Street Journal notes in an October 3, 2001, story (Government Agencies Shut Some Web Sites, Fearing Information Could Aid Terrorists) that “maps of pipelines can be found on the Web sites of several pipeline companies.” There is also a movement afoot by industry to remove community right-to-know provisions from legislation pending in Congress.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry dropped from its web site a report on chemical site secutity. The report notes that “security at chemical plants ranged from fair to very poor” and that “security around chemical transportation assets ranged from poor to non-existent.” The report, Industrial Chemicals and Terrorism: Human Health Threat Analysis, Mitigation and Prevention, does not provide information about individual facilities. This report is available on our website for research and educational purposes.

The Federal Aviation Administration has removed data from its web site on enforcement actions. The FAA's web site allows users to download a number of different databases. This includes records of accidents and incidents, pilot and maintenance training schools, and until recently, data on enforcement actions, the EIS database.

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency "stopped selling large-scale digital maps to the public through its Web site and turned off the search engine on its Web site that allowed customers to download maps from its archives," according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Most of the Geographic Information Services at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics have been removed from the web site (see http://www.bts.gov/gis/). The site is a national resource for transportation spatial data and GIS in transportation information. One activist noted that the web site previously indicated that the agency was reviewing the site for security reasons. Now when you click on Geospatial Data, Map Gallery, or State GIS Resources, the site indicates that information is “currently unavailable.” In response to an email question about why the information was unavailable and when it will return, we received the following: “Due to the attacks on September 11th, BTS and all other government agencies have had to reevaluate the content available through our web pages. We do not yet know if this data will be available in the future or if we will permanently offer it only to federal, state and local officials. We apologize for this inconvenience and if you would like I will notify you when we have made a final decision on the matter.”

On October 2, 2001, the Internal Revenue Service issued a statement on the “status of IRS reading room” that limits access to the Freedom of Information Reading Room at 1111 Constitution Ave., N.W., Room 1621, Washington, D.C. Because of concerns for employee safety, the agency will no longer permit unescorted public access. The agency has three suggestions. First, check the electronic reading room at www.irs.gov to see if the information is available electronically. Second, call (202) 622-5164 to leave a voice message that includes your name, telephone number, and a description of what information you want. An employee will call to verify receipt of the request and indicate when the requested information will be available. Third, if you want to visit the Reading Room, call the above number and request an appointment. An employee will return the call and arrange an appointment. During the visit an IRS employee will be with you at all times, when entering and leaving the building and while inspecting the Reading Room.

The Dept. of Energy removed, and subsequently reposted, information from its Occurence Reporting Program. This information, according to DOE, "provides timely notification to the DOE complex of events that could adversely affect: public or DOE worker health and safety, the environment, national security, DOE's safeguards and security interests, functioning of DOE facilities, or the Department's reputation. DOE analyzes aggregate occurrence information for generic implications and operational improvements."

The Dept. of Energy removed, and subsequently restored, its "Information Bridge" database, where the Office of Scientific and Technical Information places online documents. Previously, any search would yield the statement, "This feature is temporarily unavailable. Full-text indexes are currently being optimized in order to provide better customer service."

The Dept. of Energy's Office of Defense Programs page was removed from the National Nuclear Security Administration's site on November 1. The Office of Defense Programs page states that "The Defense Programs (DP) Website is unavailable until further notice."

<-- Terrorism and Industrial Chemicals

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