Two Years After Deadly West, Texas Explosion, New Interactive Map and Report Identify Widespread Chemical Risks to Residents, First Responders

-For Immediate Release-
April 16, 2015

Contact: Brian Gumm, 202-683-4812,

Two Years After Deadly West, Texas Explosion, New Interactive Map and Report Identify Widespread Chemical Risks to Residents, First Responders

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2015—When the West, Texas fertilizer facility exploded on April 17, 2013, it prompted communities, advocates, and the president to call for stronger chemical safeguards. But two years after the fatal disaster, a new interactive map and report from the Center for Effective Government find significant chemical risks in several states – dangers that first responders and residents may not know about.

The report, Chemical Hazards in Your Backyard: Do Your First Responders Have the Information They Need in an Emergency?, examines nine toxic chemicals that are in common use in six states in the Upper Midwest – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. A total of 1,724 industrial facilities in these six states use or store more than 600 million pounds of these highly dangerous chemicals. Of these facilities, 85 percent only report to state oversight agencies, and the remaining 15 percent file risk management plans with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for other hazardous substances.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA) requires facilities that use, store, or produce a wide range of substances to report to state agencies, which share the information with state emergency response commissions under a program known as “Tier II.” Those commissions then share the data with local emergency planning committees to use in developing response plans.

In contrast, facilities that store significant quantities of a set of 140 dangerous chemicals are required to report them to states and the EPA under the Risk Management Program created in 1990. These facilities have to submit detailed risk management plans for surrounding communities in the event of a chemical leak, fire, or explosion and are supposed to share them with local emergency personnel.

"While the federal Risk Management Program is stronger, both approaches are incomplete," said Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government. "The state-based reporting program under EPCRA is decentralized and complicated, and local emergency plans are focused on responding to a disaster, rather than preventing one. This continues to leave millions of Americans at risk."

Because of widely varying disclosure practices among states, nearby communities may not even know about the dangers posed by the so-called Tier II substances reported to the states. Some states like Texas forbid agencies from releasing this information to the public. Others require requesters to show up in person, and some charge fees to access the data. And none of the state-based data is collected in a national online database.

Our federal, state, and local governments can better prepare for chemical disasters and make facilities safer. The report provides several recommendations, including the following:

  • Make state chemical reports available online. Making this information easily accessible would give first responders and residents a place to find information quickly and efficiently when an incident occurs.

  • Improve local emergency planning. States can combine their data with federal Risk Management Program information to target resources toward the communities with the greatest vulnerability to chemical risks.

  • Add all highly hazardous chemicals to the Risk Management Program list. EPA should work with state agencies to collect and merge their Tier II records into a national database and then identify all toxic, flammable, and volatile chemicals that should be added to the federal list. This will allow local communities to take advantage of the more in-depth planning that occurs when facilities create risk management plans under the program.

"Making these and other improvements and giving emergency planning teams the information they need can help keep us out of harm's way and prevent the next West, Texas-type disaster," said Sean Moulton, director of open government policy at the Center.

The report and interactive map are available online at

These materials are the latest in a set of reports and maps the Center for Effective government has released around chemical safety and disaster prevention. Our work has been covered by the Houston Chronicle, The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, the Huffington Post, and many other outlets.

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The Center for Effective Government is dedicated to advancing a government that protects people and the environment and encourages an engaged, informed citizenry. Find the Center for Effective Government on Facebook and Twitter.

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