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A Disaster Waiting to Happen?

PHOTO: A report from the Center for Effective Government finds residents and first responders may not be getting the information they need to prepare for potential chemical disasters. Photo credit: Duster/Morguefile.
PHOTO: A report from the Center for Effective Government finds residents and first responders may not be getting the information they need to prepare for potential chemical disasters. Photo credit: Duster/Morguefile.
April 17, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois is among the top states listed in a new report identifying often unknown chemical dangers.

With today's second anniversary of a deadly explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas, the Center for Effective Government examined significant chemical risks that may be unknown to first responders. In six midwestern states including Illinois, said Sean Moulton, director of the center's Open Government Policy program, more than 1,700 facilities store more than a half billion pounds of nine of the most common hazardous chemicals.

"They're very toxic, they're flammable, some of them are explosive," he said. "For Illinois, you're talking about 187 facilities that used these nine chemicals, at least one of them; 220 million pounds for these nine chemicals alone."

The analysis found that these chemicals are not included in risk-management reports filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, and 85 percent of the facilities only report to state oversight agencies. Moulton said information on the chemicals used at facilities should be made public so first responders are prepared in an emergency.

Fifteen people died in the explosion in Texas, including 10 volunteer firefighters.

Public leaders have called for stronger chemical protections in the past two years, but Moulton said policies are not where they need to be.

"The research has been done," he said. "But in terms of making these programs consistent across each other in terms of what chemicals they're looking at, getting the information more readily available to everybody - there hasn't been anything."

The report recommended that all highly hazardous chemicals be added to the Risk Management program's list. Moulton added that state data should be combined with the federal Risk Management program and both made available online.

The report is online at foreffectivegov.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL