Federal environmental regulators should simplify reporting requirements for businesses where hazardous materials are stored so communities can better prepare and respond to fires at these facilities, New York's senior U.S. senator said Thursday.
In a morning news conference at the Erie County emergency training facility in Cheektowaga, Sen. Charles E. Schumer called on the Environmental Protection Agency to make it easier for businesses to comply with requirements for information about what kinds and how many hazardous materials are on their properties.
Schumer's not calling for new legislation, but asking the agency to initiate the change, which he said would assist firefighters in battling the blazes, as well as protect residents who live near the dangerous fires.
"It's just [that] they've botched it by making it much too complicated," said Schumer, who was joined by Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr., Erie County Commissioner of Emergency Services Daniel J. Neaverth Jr., and other fire and municipal officials.
Two significant industrial fires last July in the City of Buffalo have drawn attention to this issue.
A chemical fire at Niagara Lubricant on Chandler Street burned for 23 hours and afterward drew concerns from some residents who questioned the emergency officials' responses, as well as potential health effects.
Then, a large three-alarm industrial fire occurred at Goldman Titanium in the Clinton-Bailey neighborhood.
Schumer said that from conversations with agency representatives, he believes the EPA understands the situation and is willing to work on the issue.
Under current reporting procedures, some businesses find it difficult to know which forms need to be filed, Schumer said. Reporting requirements can vary by locality, and that leads to inaccurate and incomplete reporting.
He also said he believes a solution can be reached in "a matter of months," and suggested the agencies hold seminars for local businesses, as well as send out representatives to some of the major facilities.
It's not that businesses are violating any laws, Schumer said, but that they "don't have a guidepost."
Improvements to the reporting of hazardous materials would mean firefighters would better respond to situations, Whitfield said.