Tip of the Toxic Iceberg
What Did Y2K Have to do With This? (Updated 01/22/2000)
About the Maps
How To Use The Maps
Food for Thought
Join the RMP-Watch Email List
Links to RMP Resources
Local Community Contacts
Note: Mossville (Calcisieu Parish, Lousiana) is one of the areas I chose to map. Please read their recent report, Breathing Poison: The Toxic Costs of Industries in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana to see how bad things can get. The RMP facilities that I have mapped are clearly just the tip of the iceberg here. More comprehensive mapping similar to what I have done for Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and more environmental justice research is needed.
The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, required EPA to publish regulations and guidance for chemical accident prevention at facilities using extremely hazardous substances. Some 64,000 facilities around the U.S. were to submit their Risk Management Plans (RMPs) to the EPA by June 21, 1999. Only a portion of these have been submitted. There is concern that the Offsite Consequence Analysis (OCA) component of the RMP may be used by terrorists if published on the internet. This issue has resulted in a great deal of controversy. You may wish to read the ATSDR Report on Chemical Terrorism and my earlier discussion about this conflict. In response to this perceived threat, Congress decided that the risk of terrorist attacks was greater than that of non-terrorist related accidental releases, fire and explosion, and passed the Chemical Safety Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act (You may download this as a 174K PDF file). On Aug. 5, 1999, President Clinton signed the act and it became law. The law prohibits "covered persons" from publishing the OCA on the internet with the exception of that portion of the OCA that is included in each facility's executive summary. Interestingly, the facilities themselves are not prohibited from publishing their OCAs and can do with them whatever they wish. EPA has issued a security notice about the distribution of the OCS portion of the RMP (in PDF format). If you intend to work with this data you should read the above law and EPA's notice.
I have created a new email discussion list, RMP-Watch, that is devoted to the discussion of RMPs and related issues such as chemical safety, public disclosure, and chemical risk reduction. I encourage all interested parties to join and participate.
Tip of the Toxic Iceberg:
When you look at the maps of facilities or query EPA's RMP*Info database, you may be dismayed to find that some or many of the facilities in your area are not listed. The Chemical Safety Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act also provides for the "removal of propane sold by retailers and other flammable fuels from the risk management list." This exclusion diminished the number of reporting facilities somewhat, but of the 64,000 facilities that were to submit their RMPs by June 21, 1999, EPA records indicate that only 14,611 facilities have done so as of November 19, 1999 (Note that as of 11/15/2000 little progress has been made. 14,861 facilities have now submitted their RMPs).
This is really only the tip of the toxic iceberg. There are many thousands of chemcial handlers around the country (130,000 in California alone) that are not required to report their "worst case scenarios." We know very little about either their potential for devastating accidents or about their chemical releases (Think - devastating cumulative effects of releases over time - an accident in slow-motion). Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) is one community-based organization that is continually taking steps to communicate chemical risks and effects to the citizens of Silicon Valley. Their Eco-Map Family includes a series of map projects concerned with groundwater contamination, cumulative exposures, environmental justice, and multiple sources of toxics. My work on these SVTC projects has helped provide the financial resources I need to create these new maps.
What Did Y2K Have To Do With This? (Updated 01/22/2000)
Chemical accidents can occur at any time. It was possible, at least, that Y2K could have resulted in major chemical accidents. Fortunately, no major accidents occurred. Many facilities and experts took the threat seriously. Some chemical facilities shutdown over the transition period from 1999 to 2000 to avoid potential accidents. The Federal Chemical Safety Board was deeply concerned about this issue and submitted report to Congress, outlining the potential threat. A recent report by Texas A&M researchers indicated that smaller chemical facilities were not prepared for Y2K. The point is that many thought that the potential for disaster was real yet citizens had little knowledge of the threat individual facilities posed in their neighborhoods.
About the Maps:
These maps are provided as a geographic navigational tool to reports found in EPA's RMP*Info database. In the results of a query you will find links to the facility's executive summary, process chemicals (chemical names and amounts), accident history, prevention programs, and emergency response information. If you click on the link to the OCAs, you will find a short notice about non-disclosure of OCAs on the internet.
In their overview to the RMP*Info database, EPA states:The goal of the Risk Management Program is to reduce chemical risk at the local level. Risk Management Plans (RMPs) contain a summary of information about each facility's Risk Management Program. This information helps local fire, police, and emergency response personnel (who must prepare for and respond to chemical accidents), and is useful to citizens in understanding the chemical hazards in communities. EPA anticipates that making the RMPs available to the public will stimulate communication between industry and the public to improve accident prevention and emergency response practices at the local level.The Chemical Accident Preparedness maps are my attempt to help EPA fulfill these goals by allowing communities to visualize potential risks. Admittedly, it is a small beginning. My hope is that the number of maps will grow and spread across the country as groups that can afford it help support these efforts. This support will also help me map communities that could not otherwise afford it (Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana is an example of this). The project is very low-tech so that others may replicate it for their area using a minimum of tools and resources. If you do so, please let me know and I will link your project to these maps. If you create web-based maps that are about other sorts of pollution, I would like to link you to the maps at my U.S. and Global Pollution Map project page. I have provided some resources for those who would like to do their own maps. These include the Web Map & GIS Resources on my homepage, a separate page devoted to related books, articles, and other resources, free gis programs, and free gis data and maps. You may wish to join and participate in the WebMaps discussion list. It is new and has little traffic, but I'm hopeful that it will become a valuable resource for those wanting to create map projects for the web. You can join by entering your email address in the box near the top of my homepage.
These are not the first RMP related maps on the web. Some that show "worst case scenarios" have been on the web for quite awhile. If you know of others, please let me know.
How To Use The Maps:
I have created this project in an attempt to make it as easy as possible to use while being informative. I depend on your feedback to fully realize this goal. A portion of the maps are now live. You can view maps and retrieve facility RMP reports for Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana and Contra Costa/Solano County, California. As you move your mouse cursor over the top map of the U.S., the names of areas that are "live" are indicated in the window to the right of the map and in some browser status bars. Click on these areas to zoom-in to a more detailed map. In some situations the next map will be the final map, in others you are able to zoom-in further. You will know that you are at the most detailed map if you move your mouse cursor over the facility markers and see the facility names in the window to the right. At this level, a click on the facility will take you to the EPA RMP*Info query result page for that facility (I've found lately that the connection to EPA is very slow at times. If this persists I may link directly to executive summaries provided by RTK Net. The details of what you can find on this query page is explained above. You can also choose more detailed maps from the menu to the right of the current map. I will continue to work to add the following:
- More county level maps.
- More links and resources.
A word of warning. There may be some inaccuracies in the reports. While mapping the facilities I found that one facility in Santa Cruz County reported geographic coordinates that placed it 50 miles from where it actually belonged. When attempting to geocode (locate by street address) I found that the name of their street was mispelled twice in the report. Similarly, I found one facility in Santa Clara County that was misplaced by some 35 miles. These errors have been corrected, but what other errors exist is anyone's guess. This data is all self-reported. These two counties are not yet part of the project.
Food for Thought:
When I look at the map, my first question is "where are all the facilities?" If you look at the multiple toxic point source maps I did for SVTC, you'll find nearly 100 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) facilities plus many other firms that handle and possibly store quantities of dangerous chemicals yet only 13 facilities in Santa Clara County have RMP reports on file with EPA. Also, see my discussion above indicating how only a small number of facilities have submitted their RMPs to EPA.
This is something that I've been interested in and have wanted to accomplish for quite some time. As I explained above, this work depends on the support of those groups that can afford to help fund this work either through direct donations or through contracting to have webmap projects created for their area. Recently, RTK Net kindly provided me with all of the RMP reports received by EPA to date. I would love to make use of this data and map the entire nation, but it is a daunting task and clearly beyond my means. Like my Santa Cruz TRI, I hope that this too serves as a catalyst for similar projects. If you know of a group or groups that would like to become involved in this and can help sponsor my work, please let me know. Sponsors of the project will be listed here.
Best and Thanks,
Michael R. Meuser
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