It May Soon Be Illegal To Discuss What Chemical Dangers Lie Next Door

In an especially Orwellian move, the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Virginia) has introduced legislation that would, among many other truly vile concerns, make it illegal for government employees, such as fire fighters or law enforcement or emergency planners and the like, to discuss or even reveal chemical hazards associated with any chemical companies operating within their districts. It would also bar the posting of that information on the Internet and, in an effort to prove that being a Republican isn't all that far from being a Nazi, will force all libraries to track and report on any patron who requests any related information about the dangers of the chemical industry's many "accidents".

This stupidity, should it pass, would negate the vast majority of the Clean Air Act of 1990, the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, will violate many Civil Rights laws as well as many other laws based on the reality that only with the maximum amount of information can communities react responsibly to chemical emergencies.

The industry's spokespersons are claiming that their fear of terrorism is the reason for their unnatural desire to hide all information regarding the chemical dangers from the American people. In fact, the industry wants America to believe that simply posting worst-case scenarios on the Internet will allow terrorists around the world an entrance into the chemical company's computer systems which could then be manipulated in order to cause some imaginary catastrophe. Amazingly, they even tried to use this argument during a computer security conference last April in Washington, D.C. It goes without saying that the other attendees were awe struck by the complete ignorance of such a lame excuse.

Astoundingly, Jamie Conrad, legal counsel for the Chemical Manufacturers Association, even went so far as to admit, "On the one hand, posting this information over the Internet makes it easier for folks (environmental groups) who want to describe the magnitude of the problem to the nation. The other people that it makes it easier on is criminals and terrorists who'd like to blow things up and make a big bang." This argument makes as little sense as one which proclaimed that posting the seating charts at a basketball game would put the people there at greater risk because terrorists would then know where to find 10,000 people on a Sunday afternoon.

Naturally, a study commissioned by the EPA found that posting this information might double the odds that a chemical plant might face a terrorist threat but, since no chemical plants anywhere in America has ever reported even the smallest of terrorist incursions that only means that the odds have doubled from zero to two times zero. Even the report's director, Howard Dugoff, vice-president of ICF, blasts the chemical industry's attempts to conceal this data as a situation where "this interpretation is grossly inappropriate".

What exactly, you may well ask, is the chemical industry trying to hide? How about, in 1997 alone, U.S. Chemical facilities reported 38,305 chemical accidents, roughly one accident every fifteen minutes? How about the fact that of those reported, 1,000 incidents resulted in death or injury and, every year, more than 250 people die as a result of these accidents. By forcing the industry to acknowledge the many serious dangers that their facilities pose to their employees and the millions of Americans who live nearby, the industry must also expose their operating procedures and safety measures to the scrutiny of the public. This information can, thus, also be used in court by the people that the failures of those plans might injure or kill which is, of course, at the very bottom of this movement towards complete secrecy.

The most important reason for forcing the industry to provide complete and reliable data on both the many possible scenarios as well as the medical effects that can be caused by the thousands of toxic and dangerous chemicals made all over the nation. Without this type of information available to everyone who has a need for it then the next chemical accident will result in the same level of carnage last seen in Bhopal a decade ago where thousands died and tens of thousands were physically stricken for life and the whole time the Dow Chemical Company stonewalled the media and even the Indian government. Only when the company knew that all evidence pointed directly towards them did they finally accept responsibility and paid the families pennies in compensation.

Thankfully, three members of Congress have called for an investigation into the above mentioned study's methods and results in order to discern just how accurate the figures are and if these results should, in any way, be judged to support the chemical industry's desire for a complete ban on information to the public and local government agencies. Naturally, all three are Democrats so there remains a possibility of honesty in those investigations.

Gentle readers, the chemical industry won't be satisfied with only being allowed by the Republican Congress to rewrite the Clean Air Act and to write legislation which even further weaken the EPA. Now they are bidding for the right to simply operate in any way they choose and for it to be an illegal act for anyone to publicize what is being manufactured or even to alert local emergency offices to the possible harmful effects of an accident. Are you in any way comfortable with such a horrible future? Are you in any way comfortable with the possibility that that rash on your child may be a precursor to an illness or even cancer that is being caused by a chemical company next door or even miles away? Do you trust chemical manufacturers to always play fair, even when it sheds a negative light on them? Me either. (1)

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Copyright 9/2/99