Freedom of Information Act Request

Page - August 30, 2005
August 30, 2005 Environmental Protection Agency National FOIA Officer Mail Code 2822T 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20460

Dear National FOIA Officer,

As hurricane Katrina continues to move through the United States adversely affecting everyone in its path, Greenpeace would like to express its concern over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) emergency response to its destructive aftermath.   As you know, Louisiana, Mississippi and the other states in EPA Regions 4, 5 and 6 devastated by hurricane Katrina are also home to hundreds of petro-chemical plants that manufacture, store and use tons of highly dangerous substances ranging from gasoline to chlorine and vinyl chloride.

Beyond a normal release of pollutants, a major storm such as Katrina can trigger additional hazards posed by these facilities.  This is especially troubling as many facilities are located adjacent to residential communities, farms, rivers, lakes and drinking water sources.  These hazards may include:

  • planned or unplanned release of effluent from settling ponds and lagoons where chemical waste is stored;
  • fires, explosions and other unplanned releases caused by extreme weather conditions;
  • contamination of surface water (rivers, lakes and streams), ground water and drinking water from flooding and other effluent releases;
  • open burning of debris and waste following a storm clean up that will release unregulated pollutants into the atmosphere and create large volumes of contaminated ash;
  • leaks from thousands of underground storage tanks containing gasoline and heating oil;
  • derailment and leaks from rail cars and other storage vessels containing highly volatile substances such as chlorine, propane, ammonia and hydrogen fluoride, which poses catastrophic risks under normal circumstances - storms and flooding can undermine track beds and foundations rendering them even more vulnerable to disastrous releases of deadly chemicals.

Under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act (112r), Superfund (CERCLA) and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, these facilities are required to prevent hazardous releases.  Furthermore, under the Clean Water Act, regulated facilities are required to have a spill prevention plan and under the Clean Air Act they are required to have a plan to prevent a catastrophic release of chemicals.  

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552) and with the regulations of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we are requesting copies of documents, not limited to but including all letters, notes, meeting times, places and agendas as well as other communications to and from chemical industry entities regarding the following:

1.  All materials that describe EPA actions prior to Katrina in response to the storm to ensure that there were no unregulated releases of hazardous substances from the petro-chemical industry located in the path of Katrina.

Please provide copies of all documents including, memos, letters, alerts, meeting notes and agenda regarding industry compliance since Katrina became a tropical depression as well additional documents regarding general policies, alerts and procedures designed for storm preparation and response by  industry prior to the 2005 hurricane season.

2.  All documents regarding EPA consideration or issuance of any waiver(s) and/or agreement(s) to allow releases of regulated pollutants into the environment from these plants either before or during hurricane Katrina's arrival.  Also, please include any documents or communications from petro-chemical facilities requesting permission to release regulated pollutants into the environment.

3.  All documents pertaining to EPA rules and procedures regarding the open burning of debris or structures damaged during the hurricane.  Please include any documents detailing EPA plans to monitor the release of dangerous pollutants, such as dioxins and furans from such unregulated burning.

4.  All documents regarding any requests from the pretro-chemical industry to modify or exceed federal or state permit requirements before, during or after hurricane Katrina's arrival in all impacted areas.  Also include any and all responses to these requests from the EPA.

5.  The EPA currently suggests that people clean their homes and boil water before drinking, following a flood or hurricane.  Subsequently, please provide any documents regarding EPA plans to conduct comprehensive testing of local drinking water (private wells and public drinking water systems) for toxic chemical contamination as well as EPA plans for testing the soil of communities and flood waters that will likely contaminate soil, ground and surface water.

On behalf of the victims of hurricane Katrina, we would appreciate a response to this request at your earliest possible convenience.  If all or any part of this request should be denied, we would also appreciate a written explanation of the reasons for denial under the Freedom of Information Act.  Greenpeace reserves the right to appeal any denial of this request.

As we are requesting these documents in the public interest, and we are a non-profit organization, we therefore request that all fees for copying these materials be waived.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Rick Hind, Legislative Director

Greenpeace Toxics Campaign