'Right-to-Know' information now called confidential by state agency
Tier Two reports for 2011 and 2012 were previously released to KLTV from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the same agency that now says the documents are confidential. (Source: KLTV)
ATHENS, TX (KLTV) -
The state agency that oversees Tier Two reporting, the system that tracks hazardous materials throughout the country, said Monday the information that was released in previous years informing the public of hazards in their area is now confidential.
The Tier Two reports identify facilities storing hazardous materials, type of materials, quantities of materials and emergency contact information. The data is reported to agencies on the local, state and national levels. The information in the reports is considered part of the Environmental Protection Agency's Community Right to Know Act.
Following the West fertilizer facility fire and explosion, we requested and received Tier Two reports from the Texas Department of State Health Services for facilities across the state.
When the Athens fire occurred, we requested the newest information for the facility that caught fire in that city, but were told the information is now confidential. The Texas Department of State Health Services issued a letter Monday, stating the information requested regarding a facility in Athens that caught fire in May and other Tier Two reports are confidential under the Texas Homeland Security Act.
"A person can use this information [in a Tier Two report] alone, or in combination to aid in making an explosive weapon," the letter to the Texas Attorney General's Office stated.
Athens Fire Chief John McQueary said he agreed the information could be used for criminal acts, but said some of the information should be released to the public.
"Obviously the community has the right to know what is in your community, especially if you're living nearby," McQueary said.
We were also denied access to the inspection performed in 2013 by the State Fire Marshal's Office, citing it was part of their investigation into the May 2014 fire at the facility. We requested and received the document through another request through another agency.
The report revealed just what inspectors saw, including thirty-five tons of ammonium nitrate. The facility had received seventy tons on the day of the May 2014 fire.
At the time of the inspection, the facility did not have a Tier Two report on file. After that inspection, the owner filed a report for that year (2013) and 2014.
Also in the report, the building was noted as being in a state of decay. Chief McQueary, who was on-site for the inspection, said the company took steps to correct some of those items.
"He did facial [exterior] repairs," McQueary said. "There were some holes in the building."
The report also said the ammonium nitrate was being separated by wooden bins, contrary to what the National Fire Protection Association calls 'best practices.' "The State Fire Marshal and NFPA are saying the 'best practices' would be not to have wooden bin dividers," Chief McQueary said. "But there's not a law that says you have to have that [best practices in place]."
McQueary said right now the state is in a holding pattern waiting on the legislature to act following the fire and explosion in West and fire in Athens.
The holding pattern also remains in the state releasing information that was once considered the community's 'right to know.' The Texas Attorney General's Office has 45 days to rule on whether the Tier Two reports fall under the state's Homeland Security Act.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which manages the Texas Department of Homeland Security, said they gave no direction or advice to the Department of State Health Services that Tier Two reports would be a homeland security threat.
An updated report on the Athens fertilizer fire is expected from the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office next week.