Tell the EPA to protect our towns from dangerous chemical facilities

March 19, 2014

Clara Smith, 96, stands at the window of her home looking out at Shell refinery just a couple of yards (meters) away.

© Les Stone / Greenpeace

Images from the West, Texas chemical explosion last year are impossible to forget: a fireball, a conflagration, a town leveled, lives shattered. It was a moment when the eyes of the entire nation turned to a community going through the unimaginable. The thing is, what happened in West isn't just imaginable, it's repeatable. That explosion revealed a major, potentially-catastrophic problem in the American landscape: huge stores of toxic, explosive, and deadly chemicals kept under lax security and with very little oversight, all within striking distance of cities and towns.
[caption id="attachment_24727" align="alignnone" width="600"]Aerial views of buildings surrounding the fertilizer plant in West, TX. The explosion there killed 14 people including 12 firefighters. Aerial views of buildings surrounding the fertilizer plant in West, TX. The explosion there killed 14 people including 12 firefighters.[/caption] The United States is dotted with chemical facilities. About 6,000 fertilizer plants and over 12,000 chemical facilities, not to mention an untold number of mining and petroleum extraction sites. Nearly 500 chemical facilities together endanger the lives of over 110 million people through the risk of poison gas release. That's a third of the entire American population.
The Homeland Security Council itself estimated that an attack on a toxic gas facility would have devastating effects: 17,500 immediate deaths, 10,000 serious injuries, 100,000 people sent to the hospital.
And as recent spills and accidents in West Virginia, North Carolina, and Louisiana show, nothing has changed since West, Texas. Now's our chance.
Last summer, President Obamaissued a directive to the EPA, mandating it team up with Homeland Security, Occupational Safety and Health, and a number of other agencies, to pass stricter regulations on chemical storage. The hope is that the group will set standards so that the American public is protected from the repetition of the West, Texasexplosion or something more devious, including terrorist attacks.
[caption id="attachment_24791" align="alignnone" width="600"]Dow Chemical's Texas Operations facility in Freeport contains more than 3,200 acres of waterways and pipeline corridors and houses more than 1,900 buildings. Dow Chemical's Texas Operations facility in Freeport contains more than 3,200 acres of waterways and pipeline corridors and houses more than 1,900 buildings.[/caption] Last week,the Senate heard testimony from the EPA, whose officials declined to provide any definitive timelines or anything of substance. All the while, industry groups and Senate Republicans have been singing the same old tune: regulation hurts "job providers" and damages the economy. It's time they got past this song and dance and listened to the American people, who are overwhelmingly against their towns exploding. There is something you can do. You can tell the EPA that increased safety standards at chemical plants is a priority issue for you. You can tell the EPA that the safety of your family, your community, and the first responders who put their lives at risk every day at chemical facilities is more important to you than the hypothetical concerns of facility operators. Sign this petition and share it with those you love. The comment period is over on March 31st, and a final decision is expected as early as mid-April. This is the best chance we're going to have to protect our towns. [caption id="attachment_24792" align="alignnone" width="600"]The smoldering aftermath of a fire at a Magnablend Inc. chemical facility in Waxahachie. The fire started Oct. 3, 2011, as workers mixed chemicals at the plant south of Dallas. Massive plumes of black smoke and bright orange flames shot into the sky, forcing schoolchildren and residents to evacuate or take cover indoors to avoid possible exposure to dangerous gases. The smoldering aftermath of a fire at a Magnablend Inc. chemical facility in Waxahachie. The fire started Oct. 3, 2011, as workers mixed chemicals at the plant south of Dallas. Massive plumes of black smoke and bright orange flames shot into the sky, forcing schoolchildren and residents to evacuate or take cover indoors to avoid possible exposure to dangerous gases.[/caption]

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