19 January 2001 21:05 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Friday made available two draft plans that would provide limited access to information on the consequences of hypothetical "worst-case scenario" accidents at chemical facilities.
EPA said it will accept public comment on the draft plans until 19 March.
One system would provide the public with "read-only" access to the information in electronic database form, and the other would provide "qualified researchers" with access to the information in paper of electronic database form, EPA said in a Federal Register notice.
Last August, EPA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a final rule making the worst-case scenario data available in a network of 50 or more public reading rooms throughout the US.
The rule was issued under a law passed by Congress in 1999 which limited public access to the information. It aims to keep worst-case scenarios off the Internet because DOJ and others have argued that such easy access might help terrorists target chemical facilities for attack.
Worst-case scenarios are estimates of how major chemical releases at US facilities might impact people living near the plants. The estimates were made by 15 000 facilities that store or use hazardous chemicals and submitted to EPA along with other risk management plan (RMP) information as required by Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act.
EPA said it is considering an information technology system that would provide the public with read-only access to worst-case scenarios in electronic form by means of stand-alone or restricted access computers.
The computers would contain a database compiled from all of the RMPs submitted to EPA, along with information about the facilities' accident prevention programs, accident history, and emergency response plans, according to the notice.
The system that would provide qualified researchers with worst-case scenario data in paper or electronic form would not allow the researchers to disseminate the information, or any portion of it, EPA said.
The draft system "calls for any [qualified researcher] to sign a consent agreement acknowledging that dissemination of off-site consequence analysis (OCA) information except as authorised by law, is a crime and committing the [researcher] to protect OCA information from unauthorised dissemination."
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