Interactive Map: Students, Others at Risk from Hazardous Chemical Facilities

by Sofia Plagakis, 4/17/2014

One in ten American schoolchildren study within one mile of a potentially dangerous chemical facility, according to the Center for Effective Government's latest interactive map, which we released yesterday. A year ago, the fertilizer facility explosion in West, TX, which destroyed one school and irreparably damaged two others, demonstrated the very real risk these facilities pose, especially to schools and students. Parents and community members need to better understand the risks these facilities pose and demand that facilities be as safe as possible.

The Data and the Map

The Center for Effective Government brought together data on chemical facilities from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Risk Management Program and information on schools (elementary through high school) from the National Center for Education Statistics. The RMP facilities are required to report emergency plans because they produce, use, and/or store significant quantities of certain hazardous chemicals.

Using GIS (geographic information systems), we were able to determine the number of schools and students within a mile radius of these chemical facilities and display them on an online interactive map. The map also makes available demographic information from the 2010 Census. Parents and other community residents can zoom in to a particular local area to see if their children's schools are located near a chemical facility. Users can also search the map by school name or facility name. See the clip below from the April 17 Rachel Maddow Show for a demonstration of the map in action.

The Findings

We found that nearly 10,000 schools, with more than 4.6 million students, are within a mile of a facility that reports to EPA’s Risk Management Program. The states with most schools and students near these facilities tend to coincide with higher overall populations. Texas (as seen in Table 1) has the largest numbers of children at risk from dangerous chemicals, with almost 884,000 students. California and Illinois were the next highest states with around 585,000 and 312,500 students at risk, respectively.

 

Table 1: Five States with the Largest Number of Schools and Students within a Mile of an RMP Facility
State Schools within a Mile of Facility Number of Students within a Mile of Facility % of All Students who are within a Mile of Facility
TX 1,445 883,689 18.10%
CA 858 585,542 9.81%
IL 744 312,497 15.17%
PA 286 189,606 11.11%
FL 260 159,911 6.15%

 

But looking at those states with the highest percentage of school children at risk revealed an almost entirely different list of states. Alarmingly, in North Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, about one third of all students attend a school within a mile of a facility with known chemical hazards (see Table 2). For the complete list of state totals and percentages, click here.

 

Table 2: Five States with the Largest Percentage of Students within a Mile of an RMP Facility
State Schools within a Mile of Facility Number of Students within a Mile of Facility % of All Students who are within a Mile of Facility
ND 210 32,787 33.99%
IA 472 134,111 28.19%
NE 355 82,133 27.45%
KS 460 115,681 24.26%
TX 1,445 883,689 18.10%

 

We also found that low-income, Latino, and African American communities often bear greater risks. For example, in South Carolina, five percent of all students are within a mile of a facility, and 50 percent of all those students are African American. Similarly, five percent of all students in Massachusetts are within a mile of an RMP facility. While Latino students only make up 16 percent of all students in the state, 36 percent of the students within a mile of an RMP facility are Latino. That is, almost four out of 10 students within a mile of a facility are Latino. We plan to further explore the environmental justice concerns related to chemical facility risks.

Take Action

The Center for Effective Government and more than 100 other groups have recommended stronger chemical information disclosure standards; better reporting to oversight agencies like the EPA, Department of Labor, and Department of Homeland Security; and more robust emergency response plans that are vetted with surrounding communities. But most importantly, we have urged the federal government to require that facilities switch to inherently safer chemicals and processes whenever possible.

You can join our call to make children safer in communities across the country. Take action and urge the Obama administration to take the right steps. You can sign a petition to tell the EPA to increase standards for chemical safety, work harder to ensure responsible chemical storage and transportation, and mandate that companies replace dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives. Just click http://bit.ly/1jKBaOh.

You can also send tweets to EPA. Some sample tweets are below:

  • One year later, we still need stronger safeguards to protect us from disasters like #WestTX. Learn more: http://bit.ly/1kujnvG #SaferChemicals

  • 1 year later, we still need safeguards and #SaferChemicals to protect us from events like #WestTX. @EPA take action: http://bit.ly/1jKBaOh

  • #WestTX was a terrible disaster, but we can prevent future ones. Tell @EPA to take action http://bit.ly/1jKBaOh

  • One year after #WestTX, we don't feel safer. Tell @EPA we want #SaferChemicals http://bit.ly/1jKBaOh

For even more resources, visit the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters website.

 

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