EPA views Web posting of data in a new light

Changes to the Environmental Protection Agency's Envirofacts Web site are the subject of intense debate.

The agency's site, at www.epa.gov/enviro, has let the public search for information on the location of hazardous waste and companies that handle various chemicals.

Long and sometimes 'very spirited' debates about the possible uses of information now ensue before posting, and some information has been pulled from Envirofacts, said Pat Garvey, special assistant to EPA's Office of Information Collection.

The changes began Sept. 14, when 'we took risk management plans off the site,' Garvey said. Consequence analyses on worst-case scenarios were never on the site, he said.

'Now, before we post this information, we have to look at it in a whole new context and balance the public's right to know with the possibility that the location of certain chemicals could be information that terrorists could make enormous use of,' he said.

EPA isn't waiting for homeland security funds, Garvey said. It's using existing funds to search for ways to apply artificial intelligence to its database.

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