Terrorism Prevention at Chemical Plants Balked

Oct. 6, 2000
The U.S. Senate reportedly doesn't plan on funding a Department of\r\nJustice study of anti-terrorism preparedness at chemical plants.

The U.S. Senate reportedly doesn''t plan on funding a Department of Justice study of anti-terrorism preparedness at chemical plants.

Congress authorized the study last year in the Chemical Safety Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act.

This Act also restricted public information on chemical companies'' spill and explosion hazards after the Department of Justice (DOJ) asserted that chemical plants are attractive targets for terrorists.

Keeping the public in the dark about what kinds of chemical hazards exist right outside their doors is wrong, according to those looking out for the public''s interest.

"The Senate''s inaction confirms that Congress is more interested in protecting the chemical industry thatn in protecting public safety," said Paul Orum of the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know, a public interest watchdog organization.

"After blindfolding the public about chemical hazards at the behest of the chemical manufacturers, the Senate is now failing to even fund studies of those same hazards," said Jeremiah Baumann with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The groups are questioning why Congress last year restricted the public''s right-to-know but this year won''t fund a study to improve safety at chemical plants.

Environmental, labor and public health organizations have long advocated fo safer technologies that reduce chemical company dangers to workers and communities.

This advocacy, in part, led to the Clean Air Act of 1990, which required chemical companies to prepare for the "worst case" chemical accident scenarios.

Those scenarios point out the neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and other public sites that could fall in the path of an explosion or toxic gas release.

On Aug. 4, DOJ published rules restricting the information available on these sites.

Groups like Orum''s are unnerved by this action because he says the DOJ had not even started an interim site security report to Congress when it restricted the information.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee received the department''s request to fund the site security stody on March 31.

"On chemical safety, this looks like a know-nothing, do-nothing Congress. No right-to-know and no action to reduce hazards," said Orum.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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