The federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act — a 27 year old program that aims to alert the public to the presence of hazardous chemicals — is flawed in many states due to lax reporting and oversight, according to a Reuters investigation.
Under the law, public and private facilities must issue an inventory of any potentially hazardous chemicals they have on site. The inventory, known as a Tier II report, is then filed with state, county and local emergency officials and is supposed to be made publicly available so that emergency services and local residents can make appropriate emergency plans.
But according to Reuters, facilities across the country often misidentify these chemicals or their location, and sometimes fail to report the existence of the chemical altogether.
Federal and local authorities audit the reports in only a handful of states, Reuters says.
The news agency says it found dozens of errors in Tier II reports filed in recent years and found many instances of facilities that failed to report. The states of Illinois and Wisconsin introduced errors into their respective publicly available databases, it says.
In 2006, workwear manufacturer Carhartt failed to report the existence of chlorine at its Morehead, Ky., facility. Two firefighters were exposed to the chemical with one suffering chemical burns after shutting a leaking valve at the plant while not wearing appropriate safety gear. Carhartt said that the plant was shuttered at the time of the incident.
This year a water treatment facility in Valley City, ND, failed to submit its Tier II report. After Reuters notified state officials, the facility operator filed a report noting the presence of a host of toxic and/or explosive materials including sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and ammonium hydroxide.
In April, a fire and explosion at West Fertilizer killed at least 14 and injuring 200 in the small central Texas town. Early reports suggested that the fertilizer plant — which housed some 270 tons of ammonium nitrate — may have violated a host of environmental and safety regulations before the deadly blast.
Despite storing a potentially explosive fertilizer, the facility, located close to a nursing home, school and residential buildings, had filed no contingency plan with the EPA for a major explosion or fire at the site, Reuters reported.
Image Credit: Horia Varlan