Monday morning arrived with a scare in Waxahachie, Texas this week. The Magnablend Chemical Central Facility suffered a fire that raged out of control, consuming most of their complex. Two workers were reported injured and a massive cloud poured out for hours from the burning chemicals. The local elementary school and Navarro College next to the plant were evacuated. Two days later our photographs show that the plant was still smoldering as workers tried to clean up the wreckage and contamination.
It was very fortunate that no one was killed in the disaster, but this is a glaring example of the dangers posed by our chemical infrastructure. This story garnered national attention because of the impressive visuals, not because chemical accidents are rare, just today a train derailed and some rail cars of ethanol exploded, evacuating local residents. Every week chemical plants have fires, leaks, explosion, and malfunctions that put workers and communities at risk. It is only a matter of time before one of these accidents turns quickly catastrophic when a toxic gas is release that can kill or injure thousands.
Of continuing concern from this disaster are the chemicals that ran offsite into the ground, and the chemicals that were released into the air. Region Six of the Environmental Protection Agency has said that there is not “significant public health threat,” but I’m not convinced that the chemicals that have gone offsite in run off or in the massive cloud of black smoke are safe for those who are exposed, including the local ecology.
The risk of a catastrophic chemical disaster is unacceptable. There are safer alternatives that would greatly reduce or eliminate this risk, but most chemical corporations are refusing to use them. Not only that, but Republicans, like Representative Joe Barton whose district includes Waxahachie, are working for these companies to keep current weak regulations in place. That’s why Greenpeace is asking Congress to pass legislation that would require disaster prevention at high risk facilities, and to vote against legislation that would perpetuate the dangerous status quo.