Does the public have access to documents such as water-quality, toxic-waste and bridge-safety reports?

Monday, November 12, 2007

The public has a great degree of access to water-quality reports thanks to the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has collected information on every public drinking water system in the United States and has it stored in a database called the Safe Drinking Water Information System. Most of the information in this database is made available to the public and can be seen on the EPA’s Web site.

The public also has a great degree of access to toxic-waste reports thanks to another EPA database called the Toxics Release Inventory, which contains information regarding toxic chemicals for communities across the nation.

Before the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in early August 2007, the public had a greater range of access to bridge-safety reports from local governments. Since then, however, the Department of Homeland Security has informed states that some of the information contained within the reports might be used by people who are planning to conduct terrorist or criminal acts related to bridges. Because of this, a majority of states still fill the public’s requests for bridge information but provide a lot less information than they had previously supplied.