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

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

-------- 

Project goal: To create an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to leather, in this case using fungi.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Plastic waste is bulldozed at a landfill. Needpix

The plastic recycling model was never economically viable, but oil and gas companies still touted it as a magic solution to waste, selling the American public a lie so the companies could keep pushing new plastic.

Read More Show Less

Trending

54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Maria Symchych-Navrotska / Getty Images

By Pamela Davis-Kean

With in-person instruction becoming the exception rather than the norm, 54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Initial projections from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which conducts research and creates commonly used standardized tests, suggest that these fears are well-grounded, especially for children from low-income families.

Read More Show Less
A teenager reads a school English assignment at home after her school shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 22, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images

The pandemic has affected everyone, but mental health experts warn that youth and teens are suffering disproportionately and that depression and suicide rates are increasing.

Read More Show Less
In an ad released by Republican Voters Against Trump, former coronavirus task force member Olivia Troye roasted the president for his response. Republican Voters Against Trump / YouTube

Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch