Chemical Disasters & Environmental Racism

Black & Latino Communities at Higher Risk for Chemical Catastrophe

"Who's in Danger? A Demographic Analysis of Chemical Disaster Vulnerability Zones," a new report from The Environmental Justice and Health Alliance (EJHA), Center for Effective Government (CEG) and Coming Clean, links higher poverty to many Black and Latino communities living within chemical disaster "vulnerability zones." The risk of danger is much greater for Black & Latino communities than for the U.S. as a whole - the very definition of an unequal or disproportionate danger.

"We first published Toxic Wastes and Race, and Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty, and never expected that people of color today would be more in harm's way from toxic chemicals." reflects Robert Bullard, PhD, Dean at Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, Texas Southern University.

"Our government allows facilities to be disproportionately in communities of color; protections for workers and communities have failed," explains Michele Roberts, co-author of the report, with  EJHA. "Communities of color are treated like disposable human beings. This is environmental injustice and racism."

Paul Orum, principle researcher, report co-author, says, "Using EPA data and  U.S. Census information, we found that populations near facilities – who live every day in danger – have lower average incomes and are more likely to be Black or Latino than the population of the whole U.S."

"Mossville, Louisiana is our home," says Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN). "We had a healthy life. Now, we live with chronic chemical pollution and fear of plants blowing up. Recently, the Axial plant caught fire. People driving by had to be rushed to the hospital; children were made to shelter in place at school."

"When a chemical facility explodes or catches fire, some of the most toxic manmade substances can be dispersed. Some stay in the air, water, and soil for quite some time," says Wilma Subra, PhD, a Louisiana toxicologist. "Some chemicals - like chlorine, hydrofluoric acid, vinyl acetate, and others - are immediately harmful and linked to respiratory injury, cancer and other chronic health problems."

"If facilities near the Houston Ship Channel exploded like the plant in West, TX did, thousands could be severely injured or die from the chemicals," adds Juan Parras, with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.). "Texas has done nothing. This report confirms that large numbers of people of all colors are in terrible danger from lack of protections."

"In Richmond, CA, 15,000 people went to the hospital when the Chevron Refinery caught on fire," said Dr. Henry Clark of West County Toxics Coalition. "Investigations since then conclude that it could happen again. They did not build this refinery in the wealthy white communities nearby."

"The recent incident in West Virginia is one in a long legacy of chemical disasters. How many more preventable incidents will we have to endure before our government takes action?" adds Maya Nye, with People Concerned About Chemical Safety .

"The report's interactive maps are tools to use to identify communities and schools in danger zones," says Sean Moulton, with  Center for Effective Government. "We're hoping everyone will become more engaged and join in asking for stronger protections from chemical disasters."

"President Obama's Executive Order mandated an interagency task force to gather information and suggest solutions," explains Richard Moore, with Los Jardines Institute and EJHA. "In Albuquerque, one water treatment facility transitioned to safer chemicals. VP Joe Biden and others have identified using Inherently Safer Technologies (IST) for reducing this threat."