Journalists covering the various threats that chemical-handling facilities may pose to surrounding communities are supposed to be getting help from local and state bodies set up under a 1986 federal law.
Many of these agencies work to inform the public, and are a great resource for stories at the local, state, and even national level. Some don't — often based on a fear that terrorists could use the information to harm people.
Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) are often organized at the county or municipal levels of government. Every state has a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). State and local agencies are required to set up LEPCs and SERCs under the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), which was a response to the Bhopal, India, disaster of 1984. In the grand political bargain that brought EPCRA, the petrochemical industry escaped safety regulation by agreeing to disclose the risks that chemicals present to communities.
EPCRA and subsequent amendments actually require companies, via LEPCs and SERCs, to disclose chemical hazard information. But various kinds of evasion — whether based on terrorism, trade secrets, or other justifications, have made disclosure less than perfect.
A directory of SERCs is online here. You can contact your SERC to find the LEPCs in your state.
From your LEPC, you should be able to get information about "Risk Management Plans" for local chemical facilities.
- "Local Emergency Planning Committees," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.