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One Year After Texas Disaster, Report Looks At Schools Located Near Chemical Facilities

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A new study released Wednesday finds there are almost 10,000 schools across the country located within a mile of a chemical facility.

The research was released ahead of the April 17 anniversary of an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant, which killed 15 people and injured hundreds of others. The explosion left many people wondering why schools and homes were located so close to the plant.

The report finds that 4.6 million children attend a school located within a mile of a facility that stores potentially risky chemicals.

The research, from the nonprofit organization Center for Effective Government, maps the facilities covered under the Environmental Protection Agency's Risk Management Plan Rule. That rule requires all companies that process, distribute or store certain toxic or flammable chemicals to create and submit an emergency plan. It must describe the potential impacts of an accident, the facility's accident history, what emergency responders need to know to treat anyone impacted by an accident and any prevention measures that are in place.

There are 12,761 facilities in the U.S. that had registered plans under RMP as of May 2013, including storage facilities, refineries and factories. The RMP rule covers a number of potentially dangerous chemicals. Ammonium nitrate, the chemical that caused the West Fertilizer Co. disaster, is not a listed substance under RMP, but the chemicals used in its production are, as well as certain processes that use ammonium nitrate. The Center for Effective Government report pulls together EPA information on facilities that report under RMP along with school location information from the National Center for Education Statistics.

"The number of children who are potentially in harm's way is deeply troubling," Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the center, said in a statement.

The center has called for tougher standards for disclosing the presence of chemicals, more oversight and more expansive emergency response planning. It is also calling for inherently safer chemicals and processes whenever possible. The federal government is still in the process of creating policies to respond to last year's explosion; representatives from a number of agencies released a list of proposals in January.

The report is packaged as an interactive map and also uses U.S. Census Bureau data to show the racial and economic profile of residents in the area around the chemical facilities. Users can search the map by school name, city or state.

This article has been edited to clarify that ammonium nitrate is not specifically listed in the EPA Risk Management Plan rule, but chemicals used in its production are.

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