Public safety encompasses many things, including the right to know the location of materials that could be potentially hazardous to the community. Texas residents living in close proximity to toxic or explosive devices or compounds are at risk daily if an accident occurs. Emergency personnel are also at great risk if they are unaware of the location of these substances because they take the chance of entering premises to help people but may be putting themselves and the very people they are rescuing in even more serious danger by going too near to the wrong locations.
Unfortunately, disclosure about the existence or location of toxic materials does not always happen. Texas leads the nation in not only not requiring such information be provided but in actively preventing this knowledge be shared with emergency personnel. State law forbids local counties to allow fire marshals to conduct inspections of plants with explosive materials. Laws requiring a certain amount of distance between residential neighborhoods, schools and the like and chemical plants are non-existent in the city of Houston.
After the deadly explosion at a fertilizer company in West, Texas, it has been found that the company had a long pattern of not providing information about the location of ammonium nitrate, the substance that caused the fatal blast. This was despite the company having incurred multiple fines over a period of years for not complying with safety regulations pertinent to toxic exposure or handling of toxic materials.
Proper disclosure and regulations could keep citizens safe from explosions such as the one in West. Understanding residents' rights in the event of such an accident is important and can help one be properly compensated if an emergency does happen.
Source: Huffington Post Blog, "The Texas fertilizer plant explosion wasn't an accident," Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen, June 4, 2013