Texas explosion highlights risks to communities near facilities storing dangerous chemicals
by John Deans
The disaster at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas Wednesday night has killed and injured many people according to news reports, and our thoughts are with those impacted by this tragedy. New aerial photos of the explosion show the devastation to the neighboring community, including a nearby school and nursing home.Shockingly, dangerous facilities that store large quantities of toxic or explosive chemicals like anhydrous ammonia, chlorine gas, and hydrofluoric acid threaten communities all around the United States, from small towns to major cities. This interactive map shows over 400 high-risk chemical plants around the United States, empowering citizens to find out if theyre at risk. Its important to note that this map includes only facilities that threaten more than 100,000 people, mostly those in or nearby major cities where a release of toxic gases could cause mass casualties. There are around 12,000 more chemical facilities, water treatment plants and oil refineries that put communities at risk, and the transportation of these chemicals threaten still more.
This incident also highlights the importance of stronger oversight to protect communities, workers, and first responders from the catastrophic risks of these dangerous facilities - Bloomberg News has more on that in this article, Texas Explosion Seen as Sign of Weak U.S. Oversight.
These threats could be reduced by requiring facilities to use safer technologies whenever feasible. For example, the water treatment plant in Washington DC converted shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, eliminating the risk to Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and residents of Washington DC. Greenpeace is part of a coalition of labor, health, and environmental justice groups that have been petitioning for measures that would extend this kind of protection to communities beyond the nations capitol.