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A Reuters investigation revealed that the federal government’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act is seriously flawed, the news organization reported recently. The act, which was passed in 1986, is intended to alert a community to the presence of dangerous chemicals in the area; however, lax oversight and reporting has led to numerous injuries and hazards from chemical wastes which the law was supposed to prevent.

The law stipulates that both public and private entities must file a “Tier II” report if there are any potentially dangerous chemicals on their premises; the reports are supposed to be made public as well as available to government officials in order for emergency responders to adopt appropriate plans in the event of a disaster.

However, the reports have not been properly monitored or vetted; for instance, several years ago two firemen were injured after a company failed to report chlorine within its building; earlier this year, a water treatment facility in North Dakota was found to have neglected its Tier II report. And the massive explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas earlier this year may have been caused in part by similar violations.

Dangerous chemicals are a matter of serious concern and require strong oversight. Earlier this month, a train derailment in Maryland led to an explosion of on-board sodium chlorate; the risk for explosions and contamination from such materials is always present. The Right-to-Know Act should be updated and more vigorously enforced in order to protect public safety from these chemicals, which present multiple dangers from illness to explosion, especially when not handled properly.

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