The watchdog group Center for Effective Government offers data tools that partly offset government failures to protect people from dangerous materials that poison or injure people, burn, or explode. They are also tools for journalists trying to inform their communities.
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As Congress limps toward revisions of the badly broken Toxic Substances Control Act, it's clear that only a small fraction of the roughly 84,000 chemicals in commerce in the U.S. have actually been tested for health effects. Now an environmental health group has rated some household cleaning products firms.
You have to give the U.S. EPA some credit. The agency has done quite a bit to let the public know about some of the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. EPA on March 27, 2015, published a database of nearly 700 of those chemicals, which is a good start and shows how open-source and non-governmental efforts can overcome industry efforts to hide data on toxics.
The U.S. EPA has unveiled analysis of its most recent Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data (for 2013). The TRI provides a useful starting point for finding not only local and regional hotspots, but also significant trends.
The industry got Congress in 2005 to block the public from knowing about these chemicals, which can end up in people's drinking water. But the enviro groups, led by the Environmental Integrity Project, want to use a different law to help unlock the data.
The Center for Public Integrity, Columbia University, and City University of New York have just published some 20,000 pages of hitherto unpublished letters, e-mails, presentations, and meeting minutes from the oil and chemical industries in a public database, called "Exposed: Decades of Denial on Poisons."
It was news when a leak of methyl mercaptan killed four workers at a DuPont chemical plant in La Porte, Texas, November 15, 2014. Maps and data are available to any environmental journalists who want to know about similar hazards near them, thanks to Amanda Frank at the Center for Effective Government.
The Center for Effective Government has compiled an interactive mapping database of some of the most dangerous chemical facilities in the U.S., showing their proximity to schools. The group also mapped which Congressional districts contain the most schoolkids at risk.
While the idea that government neglect and public ignorance are the right approach to chemical safety and security has lost some credence, information on chemical accidents is still hard to come by. Here are tips as well as news about the National Response Center's database of oil and chemical spills.
Federal agencies are still grinding forward on decisions about disclosure of often-toxic ingredients pumped into the ground during "fracking" to produce gas and oil. Significant decisions may come eventually from the Interior Department, the EPA, and the Obama White House. But don't bet on any courageous decisions until after the November election.