Remember all that data about the risks of chemical spills, leaks, and explosions the government didn't want you to write about? Well some of it is available in the newly redesigned Web site of Right-To-Know Net (RTK NET). The site is a great starting point for all kinds of local and state stories about chemical risk.
Back in the prehistoric days of 400 baud modems, RTK NET was one of the few places reporters could get Toxics Release Inventory data. Computers, the datascape, and RTK NET have changed since then. RTK NET is now an arm of the watchdog group OMB Watch.
RTK NET offers a set of powerful tools for reporting on local chemical risk stories. Most remarkable is data from EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP). At the urging of the chemical industry, Congress has ordered EPA to make it nearly impossible to get information about RMP plan "worst-case scenarios." This despite the fact that some facilities could kill more than a million people, and that the secrecy helps agencies and companies avoid making the facilities safe.
Even without identifying sites, the new RTK NET makes it easy to see which cities face the worst chemical risks, and what chemicals are involved. Starting with this information, it is easy to zero in on specific facilities using other tools.
One great tool available on RTK NET itself is a database of 5-year accident histories for every plant subject to RMP rules. The information is facility-specific.
The information on specific facilities can be leveraged by putting it together with information on those facilities from other databases. RTK NET offers not only the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), but also information from the Emergency Response Notification System (ERNS), which is the spills and accidents database from the Coast Guard's National Response Center. Also included is EPA's Biennial Reporting System (BRS) database, which contains data on the generation, shipment, and receipt of hazardous waste under RCRA. RTK NET also includes the Resource Conservancy and Recovery Act Information System (RCRIS) database which contains data on hazardous waste handler permits, activities, and violations.