Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

New Report Documents Chemical Disasters and Environmental Injustice in the U.S.

Health + Wellness

Americans who face the greatest threat from potential toxic chemical disasters are predominantly from low income and minority communities, a new report released by the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance asserts.

Members of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance at the Feb. 2014 EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council meeting in Denver, CO. Photo courtesy of
Who's in Danger? report

In a first-of-its-kind study, the report, Who's in Danger? A Demographic Analysis of Chemical Disaster Vulnerability Zones, documents the high-risk factors of living within the vicinity of chemical facilities—including water and wastewater treatment facilities, power plants, bleach production facilities, petroleum refineries and paper mills. The report dubs these hotspots “vulnerability zones,” or "fenceline zones." 

“Our government has allowed these facilities to be disproportionately located in communities of color and has allowed chemical corporations and the officials who are supposed to be protecting us to tragically fail workers and surrounding communities,” explains Michele Roberts, co-author of the report. “Sadly, we have witnessed too many tragic catastrophes such as what happened in West, TX, last year, with 15 people killed; or in Elk River, WV, with toxic, contaminated water coming out of people’s faucets in their homes; or Richmond, CA, where 15,000 were sent to hospitals from a Chevron refinery explosion.”

“People of color communities are treated as if they are disposable human beings,” Roberts continues. “This is environmental injustice and racism.”

Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Census Bureau, the report demonstrates that not only are these disadvantaged Americans living within disaster zones, but that industries and regulators are failing to take measures to make their situation any safer.

“Here in Richmond, CA, 15,000 people had to go to the hospital when the Chevron Refinery exploded and caught on fire three years ago,” says Dr. Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition. “All of the various investigations since then, every single one, has concluded that the community is still not safe from the same thing happening all over again. You better believe they would not have built this refinery in the wealthy white communities near by."

Some activists accuse companies of intentionally locating their chemical plants in poor communities because they know the residents don’t have the resources to put up a fight.

“When a chemical facility explodes or catches fire, some of the most toxic substances made by man can be dispersed into a community, and, depending on the chemical, stay in the air, water, and soil for quite some time,” says Wilma Subra, PhD, of the Subra Company in Louisiana. “Some of these chemicals—like chlorine, hydrofluoric acid, vinyl acetate, and many others—are not only immediately harmful to life and health but are linked to respiratory injury, cancer and other chronic health problems.”

Flaring oil refineries in Port Arthur, TX are an all-too-common sight for local residents. Photo courtesy of
Who's in Danger? report

The report focused on five demographic indicators (home value, household income, race and ethnicity, education level and poverty rate) and found that:

  • Residents of the fenceline zones closest to the facilities have average home values 33 percent below the national average and average incomes 22 percent below the national average.
  • The percentage of blacks in the fenceline zones is 75 percent greater than for the U.S. as a whole, and the percentage of Latinos is 60 percent greater.
  • The percentage of adults in the fenceline with less than a high school diploma is 46 precent greater than for the U.S. as a whole, but the percentage with a college or other post-high school degree is 27 precent lower.
  • The poverty rate in the fenceline zones is 50 percent higher than for the U.S. as a whole.

“The interactive maps in the report are a tool for residents, industry, and government agencies to find which communities and schools are in the danger zones around these chemical facilities,” says Sean Moulton, with Center for Effective Government. “We're hoping parents, teachers, and school administrators will become more engaged and will join us in asking for much stronger protections from chemical disasters.” 

--------

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

A Preventable Chemical Plant Explosion May Be Closer Than You Think

Residents Seek Environmental Justice in GA by Suing City for Decades of Sewage Dumping

Toxic Dump to Expand in Low-Income Neighborhoods as Violations Persist

-------- 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Oregano oil is an extract that is not as strong as the essential oil, but appears to be useful both when consumed or applied to the skin. Peakpx / CC by 1.0

By Alexandra Rowles

Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.

However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro meets Ronaldo Caiado, governor of the state of Goiás on June 5, 2020. Palácio do Planalto / CC BY 2.0

Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has presided over the world's second worst coronavirus outbreak after the U.S., said Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Read More Show Less
Although natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, it is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Skitterphoto / PIxabay

By Emily Grubert

Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.

Read More Show Less
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved two Lysol products as the first to effectively kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces, based on laboratory testing. Paul Hennessy / NurPhoto via Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveils the Green New Deal resolution in front of the U.S. Capitol on February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong / Getty Images

By Judith Lewis Mernit

For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.

Read More Show Less
About 30,000 claims contending that Roundup caused non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are currently unsettled. Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Hundreds of sudden elephant deaths in Botswana aren't just a loss for the ecosystem and global conservation efforts. Mario Micklisch / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Charli Shield

When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.

Read More Show Less