LOS ANGELES - Chances are you or someone you know live near a potentially hazardous chemical facility, and may not even know it.
A new interactive map and report from the Environmental Justice Health Alliance identifies 12,000 such facilities that it said present health and safety risks.
Based on the report, 124 million Americans live with a threat of harm - 39 percent of the country's population.
Eric Whalen, community coordinator with the alliance, said the map is a wake-up call to those who review it. "A lot of folks just aren't aware that there are over 12,000 chemical facilities in America - in neighborhoods and towns all across the nation - that could at any moment explode, or emit poisonous gas, and in some cases, kill thousands of people," Whalen said.
The analysis suggested that 125,000 schools and 11,000 medical facilities are vulnerable to a chemical disaster. The report recommended the public be made aware of the potential dangers, and whenever possible, that the risks be eliminated or reduced. Whalen and others noted that accidents or 'near-misses' aren't unusual, such as at the Torrance Refinery outside Los Angeles, owned by Exxon Mobil.
An explosion in 2015 prompted a near-miss with a massive piece of ductwork and a container of hydrofluoric acid. If the metal had hit the chemical, experts say thousands would have been killed or sickened. Sally Hayati, president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, is fighting for the plant to use safer chemicals that her group says are already used by other facilities. "Those of us who are aware are desperate to get rid of it; it's an unnecessary hazard," Hayait said. "It's just hard for people to recognize a hazard before it happens. We have to recognize that this is a risk that just should not be tolerated." While the hazardous facilities present a risk to anyone nearby, Whalen added that some populations and neighborhoods are disproportionately affected. "People of color and the poor are overwhelmingly at risk; they're getting piled on" Whalen said. "So, they deal with the day-to-day pollution that these facilities emit.
They live closer to facilities on average, so they're more likely to face a chemical disaster. They also, unfortunately, face a higher risk of cancers and respiratory disease."
The Trump Administration recently attempted to block rule updates designed to improve chemical disaster-prevention measures at more than 12,000 facilities regulated under a program known as the Risk Management Plan. That move was defeated by the Environmental Justice Health Alliance and other groups that successfully sued to enact safety improvements.