County dropped ball on Act 165

The County Failed to Live Up to its Responsibilities Under Act 165

The situation described in the Mirror story “Blair targeting hazmat scofflaws” on February 3 seems to be similar to that described by local governments some decades ago when they made public statements about their plans to crack down on people who broke their junk-vehicle ordinances.

While announcing their plans to crack down, most governments neglected to explain why they had previously allowed trash vehicles to gather in yards, abandoned lots, alleys, along streets, and who knows where else. A city should get rid of legislation from its books if it has no intention of enforcing it. Equally applicable to municipalities, states, and the federal government.

However long ago, someone should have been made aware that emergency planners in Blair County had lost interest in, or were unable to carry out, the duties assigned to them under Act 165, the 1990 Pennsylvania Hazardous Material Emergency Planning and Response Act.

Due to this apparent failure, Blair County is now attempting to create, seemingly from scratch, a database of who is in possession of which dangerous drugs, and whether or not those in possession are doing so in a safe manner (in terms of both usage and storage). The whys and hows of the county’s apparent degradation in compliance with the 1990 statute, as well as why the state did not discover that something might be awry, still remain unclear.

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County dropped ball on Act 165
The county dropped ball on Act 165

Regarding Act 165, it appears like the proverbial ball was dropped significantly, and there may be many people or groups to blame. The significance of the law being almost 30 years old should not be lost on county citizens. Is it possible that ten, twenty, or more years of progress have been wiped out on safety and environmental fronts here due to a lack of compliance with the law?

The seriousness, scope, and potential repercussions of the problem with toxic chemicals have been brought home to everyone by the recent train catastrophe in Ohio. According to a news story published on February 3rd, county officials are keeping a close eye on businesses that have failed to file the required reports on the storage or handling of hazardous substances.

In light of the horrible outcomes that could occur in the absence of the information that the legislation seeks to acquire and keep for the public’s and emergency responders’ benefit, this reporting objective is actually acceptable. There must be a complete accounting of what went wrong in order to identify its causes and implement appropriate solutions.

But so far, there has been little hard evidence that local authorities have even determined where to start. A representative from the Altoona Fire Department suggested writing a letter to the companies that used to be compliant but have since ceased reporting as a good first step. The county has a long way to go before it can have any kind of handle on what is floating around and who has it.

County dropped ball on Act 165
The county dropped the ball on Act 165

The work at hand is obviously not going to be a quick fix, just as it wasn’t for communities in the past that had been overrun by junk cars and suddenly realised the situation. For a county that excels in so many other areas, the Blair Act 165 scandal is a huge embarrassment.

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