Abbott tells citizens to get chemical lists from businesses, not the state

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by BRETT SHIPP / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on July 3, 2014 at 9:35 AM

ATHENS, Texas — Are dangerous chemicals being stored next to your home or school?

The federal government calls it your "right to know." 

Three weeks ago, News 8 was the first to report of a ruling by the Texas Attorney General that blocked the release of chemical inventory lists to the public. Now, after days of criticism, the attorney general says the information can be made public simply by asking each individual business.

But is it just that easy? 

Three weeks ago, after fire engulfed a fertilizer storage facility in Athens, News 8 asked for a chemical inventory list for that particular building. It's called a Tier II report. It’s mandated by federal law and available to the public upon request via the State Department of Health Services, until a few weeks ago.

That's when Attorney General Greg Abbott blocked the list. He cited a state law prohibiting the release of chemical inventories for Homeland Security reasons. When News 8 first tried to question Abbott about his ruling two weeks ago, he wouldn't respond. 

Tuesday in Austin, Abbott set the record straight and assured the media that Tier II chemical inventories are still accessible by the public. 

"You, as a community member of this state, can go to any chemical facility in the entire state of Texas and say, 'Identify for me all chemical you have on your facility,'" he said. "And you are entitled to get that information."

And while state officials can't release Tier II lists, Abbott says the public can still go knock on chemical company doors and ask. 

"Every single facility along the way, whether they are storing any kind of chemical whatsoever," he said.

So, WFAA attempted to do just that. 

WFAA chose a couple businesses not far from downtown Dallas. First up was Oxy Chemical, where the plant manager seemed eager to comply. But, 15 minutes later, things started to look less promising.  

WFAA was told to take up the request with an Oxy Chemical corporate communications manager  in Los Angeles. That manager said he wasn't familiar with Tier II sheets nor Attorney General Abbott's directive for businesses to merely turn them over to the public. WFAA left empty handed. 

Next stop was Buckley Oil Company just down the road. Buckley had a lot of chemicals stored in their wide open lot. But, when asked to see the company’s Tier II report, the manager on site said the City of Dallas has it.  

WFAA was told to ask Dallas Fire-Rescue or the company’s attorney. Not only did they not give hand over their Tier II report, they said not to record images of their chemical inventory stored on site, which was clearly visible through an open gate.

"We have to call and report to Homeland Security that you are doing something like this," the manager said. 

Moments later, a worker closed the gate, blocking the view. Despite the attorney general's declaration, the business was clearly not interested in allowing the public knowledge of what's being stored on site.

Email bshipp@wfaa.com

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