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EPA Won't Put Disaster Data on Web

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By John Solomon
Associated Press Writer
Friday, November 20, 1998; 4:49 p.m. EST

The Environmental Protection Agency has dropped its idea of posting potential disaster casualty figures for chemical plants on the Internet, bowing to concerns that the information would aid terrorists.

"The EPA and FBI recognize that chemical facilities may be a target for terrorism even without the sensitive data on the Internet," the EPA wrote in a letter this month to House Commerce Chairman Thomas Bliley, R-Va.

The Associated Press reported Oct. 30 that the FBI, the CIA, the National Fire Chiefs' Association and lawmakers, including Bliley, had been raising concerns for nearly a year about the Internet plan for distributing the "worst case scenario" data. The EPA, however, appeared reluctant to drop the concept.

The intelligence community was concerned that putting the data on the Internet might give terrorists a road map for targeting facilities for the most catastrophic attacks. Environmental groups strongly advocated disclosure of the information, saying it was important for people who live near plants to know potential dangers.

At the time of the AP story, agency officials said they were working to find a way to allay the concerns.

The EPA informed Congress a week later it had adopted an alternate idea suggested by the FBI that would make the worst case data, which includes casualty estimates in case of a chemical release for each plant, available to state and local agencies and libraries via a secure computer system.

The public still will get access to other information about chemical plants on the Internet, including accident histories for each plant and prevention plans.

"Both agencies will continue to support a community's right to know about chemical risks as it is an important aspect of accident prevention," the EPA wrote Bliley.

Bliley plans to monitor the EPA's efforts as it explores other ways to make the worst-case-scenario data available to the public, such as on a computerized compact disc or through the Freedom of Information Act, to make sure it does not stray into the same concerns. The FBI says it remains "greatly opposed" to the CD-ROM distribution.

It was Congress that first mandated that the information be made public. The Clean Air Act required the EPA to disclose information it has collected from some 66,000 chemical manufacturing sites across the nation under its Risk Management Plan.

The law didn't specify how the information should be disclosed. The EPA initially picked the Internet for the widest possible dissemination. The agency now says it will work with the FBI to develop safer technologies in the future for disseminating sensitive data on the Internet.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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