Rule: Keep chemical spill info off Web
- By William Matthews
- Aug 11, 2000
Fearing that the global reach of the Internet will prove too helpful to
terrorists, the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency
have issued a final rule for keeping information about potentially deadly
chemical spills at U.S. industrial plants off government Web pages.
However, in an effort to inform the public about chemical risks, the
agencies propose creating a Web-based "risk indicator system" that would
tell people whether their homes, schools or workplaces are in a "vulnerable
zone" for a chemical spill.
The EPA also proposes making "less-sensitive" chemical plant information
available on a World Wide Web site "to facilitate risk reduction dialogues"
involving the public, plant operators and local officials.
Those two steps represent at least a partial effort to accomplish what
the EPA set out to do in the mid 1990s by posting "risk management plans"
on the Internet. The intent was to keep the American public informed about
chemical dangers in their communities.
Detailed risk management plans the EPA has collected from more than
15,000 companies will be banned from EPA Web sites. Instead, the plans will
be made available to the public only in closely monitored government reading
Justice and EPA propose creating 50 or more reading rooms where risk
management plans could be studied by members of the public. To see the plans,
visitors would have to present a photo identification card, such as a driver's
license or passport.
Reading room visitors would be allowed to examine only 10 risk management
plans a month, and they would be given only limited access to plans outside
the area where they work or live. Photocopying would be prohibited.
In comments to the Justice Department, critics of the new rule noted
that the danger of chemical spills is "very real" while threats of terrorist
attacks on industrial plants are "greatly exaggerated fears of the unknown,"
one critic wrote. But Justice said that "two recent plots to cause chemical
releases were thwarted by law enforcement."