Kids in Danger Zones

One in every three schoolchildren in America today attends a school within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous chemical facility. We value our children and do everything we can to keep them safe. Yet, one area that has proved surprisingly resistant to effective oversight is toxic chemicals.

Shortly before 8 p.m. on April 17, 2013, a fertilizer storage and distribution facility in West, Texas exploded, killing 15 people, injuring more than 200, and destroying over 150 buildings, including three schools. Had the explosion occurred during the day, scores of children could have died.

This is not an isolated case. In August 2012, the release of a toxic cloud from a Chevron refinery sent 15,000 residents of Richmond, California to the hospital with respiratory problems. In January 2014, toxic chemicals used in coal processing leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia, contaminating the water of 300,000 people in nine counties.

Hazardous facilities are reporting safety incidents every day. With an aging industrial infrastructure in close proximity to major population centers, and fewer state and federal staff to inspect these facilities, the risks are growing.

But we can change this. There are practical, immediate steps we can take to reduce the chemical hazards in communities across the country and to reduce the risks our children face.

Our report Kids in Danger Zones, examines the number of children who attend a school located within the self-reported vulnerability zone of over 3,400 high-risk chemical facilities in the U.S. and offers ways we can take action today to keep our kids safe.

Our Report Findings:

    • Over one in every three schoolchildren in America today (36 percent of pre-kindergarten through high school students) attends a school within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous chemical facility.

 

    • Over 19.6 million children in 48 states are in a vulnerability zone. Most of the children, their parents, and their teachers have no idea that they are at risk.

 

    • Half of these children are in schools located in more than one chemical vulnerability zone. The most at-risk school – San Jacinto Elementary School in Deer Park, Texas – is located in the vulnerability zones of 41 different chemical facilities.

 

    • Houston, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas are the most high-risk metro areas – they contain many schools in multiple vulnerability zones.

 

  • The states with the most high-risk counties are Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, and Louisiana.

 

“If an explosion or chemical leak occurred at one of these facilities, the result could be catastrophic. This is an unacceptable situation, given that there are well-known and straightforward remedies that some companies have voluntarily implemented.”

– Katherine McFate, Center for Effective Government

 

The Risk:

The level of risk associated with a particular chemical facility has to do with the quantity of chemicals being handled, how dangerous those chemicals are, and the proximity of the facility to population centers.

The Kuehne Chemical Company in South Kearny, New Jersey has a 14-mile vulnerability zone with 1,887 schools and 861,639 students situated within it. The facility’s vulnerability zone encompasses nearly all of Manhattan, as well as all of Jersey City and Newark.

The company holds 2 million pounds of chlorine gas for use in manufacturing bleach. Contact with chlorine gas produces the same effects as when it was used as a chemical weapon in World War I: burning of skin and eyes, respiratory damage, and even death.

What We Can Do:

We can make our children safer without shutting down industrial production or losing jobs.

The most effective way to protect our children from chemical disasters is to require companies to use safer chemical alternatives when they are available.

Facilities can shrink their vulnerability zones by reducing the amount of toxins produced or stored onsite.

New facilities with dangerous chemicals should not be sited near major population centers or probable growth areas around metropolitan areas. 

Our Full Report: