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Right to know: Communities must be informed about hazardous substances used, stored or released locally

by Brian Manning
In 1986, Congress passed a bill called Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act. This law gave the public the right to know what hazardous substances are used, stored or released in their community so that they might plan for an emergency. This information is critical to fire departments, police, emergency responders and the general public.
A Tier II Report must be filed before March 1 of each year. This report must name any hazardous chemicals, their amount and their storage location. In Huerfano County, these reports must be sent to the Colorado Emergency Committee, the Huerfano County Emergency Planning Committee and the local fire chief.
There are problems with these reports. First, they are filed for the previous year so the material can be in place for one full year before the report is filed. Second, not everything is reported. The amount that must be reported is 10,000 pounds or more of most hazardous chemicals. This is equivalent to 22 drums of a substance with the same weight of water or 29 drums of gasoline. Amounts less than this are not required to be reported on this form. Five hundred or more pounds of extremely hazardous materials must also be reported. The full list of substances that must be reported is designated by the EPA and is on their website.
The specific information about each chemical at the facility is provided in the form of material safety data sheets (MSDS). Material safety data sheets provide information about the physical and chemical characteristics; the potential for fire, explosion, and reactivity; the health hazards; the primary route of entry; emergency and first aid procedures; and more.
Employees must also have access to the MSD sheets for materials they can be exposed to at work in accordance with OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration). This information must be given to them during their shift if they request it. Oil and gas companies are not exempt from providing employees with MSD sheets. These sheets are also required to be given to the local fire department. This information is important for pre-fire planning.
When Shell Oil begins fracking, there will be hazardous chemicals used. People should know what chemicals are being used and how they can affect health, fire, air pollution, and ground water. It is hoped that Shell Oil will share this information with the public so people can understand what hazards their families are exposed to.