Toxic Chemical Releases in Wake of Hurricane Katrina Subject of FOIA Request to EPA

Concerned about the dangers posed by a release of toxic chemicals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Greenpeace has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking for a complete accounting of the agency’s plans and discussions with industry in preparation for the hurricane. Under federal environmental laws, petro-chemical facilities are required to have spill prevention plans in place as well as plans to prevent catastrophic releases of chemicals. In its request, Greenpeace also asked for the EPA’s plans for comprehensive testing of drinking water and soil for chemical contamination in the affected areas.

"We are requesting …[a]ll 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," read the request.  "Please provide copies of all documents…regarding industry compliance since Katrina became a tropical depression as well additional documents…regarding storm preparation and response by industry prior to the 2005 hurricane season."

Some of the areas hardest hit by Katrina are 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.  Residents affected by Hurricane Katrina face severe air and water pollution by toxins that are released when refineries are damaged during a storm.

"There is a reason why it is called 'hurricane season.'  Every year, we know that certain parts of the country face these potentially devastating weather events" said Greenpeace Legislative Director and toxics expert Rick Hind.  "Planning for such a catastrophe should have been done in advance.  The public has a right to know what steps our government and the industry has taken to safeguard them from the toxic hazards that are compounded by hurricanes and severe storms."

Read the FOIA request letter here.  Read an accompanying letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson here.

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