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Can emergency personnel rely on Tier II reports?

New Jersey firefighters recognize they have a dangerous and risky job. After all, they run into burning buildings as everyone else is running out. And they suffer injuries on the job and apply for workers' compensation benefits, to help get by as they recover from their injuries. Sadly, sometimes the workers' compensation benefit being applied for is a death benefit for their family, after they have suffered a fatal injury doing their job.

Firefighters in New Jersey and everywhere in the U.S. rely on a little known law to help prevent fatal workplace accidents. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act is supposed to provide firefighters and other emergency first responders with information on the types, quantities and location of dangerous or hazardous chemical stored at thousands of public and private sites.

An examination by Reuters finds that these reports, known as Tier II reports, are frequently inaccurate, often misidentify the chemicals or fail to report any information. A large part of the problem is they reports are almost never audited, as there is no formal audit system in place.

This means that when the firefighters entered the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, they claimed they had never seen any report on the types of chemicals stored in the plant.

Another plant, which made fireworks, a chemical was identified as ammonium nitrate, and was shown as being located in a residential area. In fact, it was a much more dangerous chemical, it was stored at another location miles away and there was no report of it being there. If firefighters had to respond, they would walk unawares in to a deathtrap, not realizing the building contained 40,000 lbs of explosive.

It is known the Tier II reports are inaccurate, and lack of oversight is primary reason, but no one wants to pay for the oversight. The errors seem innocent enough, until a firefighter dies because of chemicals or explosives they could not have known were present. 

Source: Reuters.com, “Exclusive: U.S. system for flagging hazardous chemicals is widely flawed,” M.B. Pell, Ryan McNeill and Selam Gebrekidan, Aug. 10, 2013