09 November 2001 22:27 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--Two members of the US House of Representatives said Friday they are considering introducing legislation to limit Internet access to sensitive industry data that could be useful to terrorists.
Representative John Duncan (Republican-North Carolina) said he is concerned that anonymous access on the Internet to information concerning water treatment and industrial facilities using toxic chemicals could provide a "road-map" for potential terrorists.
This concern has grown substantially since the 11 September terrorist attacks, added Duncan, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment.
Ranking minority member Representative Peter DeFazio (Democrat-Oregon) agreed that limits should be put on the accessibility of the data, but stressed the importance of making the information available to emergency response personal.
"The first responders need to know what they're dealing with when responding to emergencies," DeFazio remarked at a hearing. "We need to determine how to strike this balance."
Elaine Stanley, director of EPA's office of information analysis and access, told the panel that the agency continues to be "strongly committed" to providing public access to environmental information.
"We firmly believe that public access to our information resources contributes positively to the public's ability to understand environmental issues and to its ability to make better protection decisions in every day life," Stanley said.
But she added that the "events of 11 September have compelled us to carefully review all of the information we make available to the public over the Internet in a new light."
EPA has been evaluating the potential for use of government information by screening the "large array of databases, tools and models currently available," Stanley said.
To date, the only information EPA has removed from its web site deals with risk management plans for industrial plants that handle hazardous chemicals, she testified.
More detailed information describing a facility's worst-case scenario in a hypothetical accident is available in about 50 government reading rooms across the country. The public can view information on a limited number of facilities each month but cannot copy any of the data.
Jeremiah Baumann, an environmental health advocate for the US Public Interest Research Group, said access to the data should not be limited because "the right to know is a proven tool for increasing public safety."
He said: "Removing the information from public view does nothing to reduce the hazard," citing 5000 facilities in the US that store more hazardous chemicals than those released in a 1984 industrial accident in Bhopal, India that killed 4000 people.
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