On August 29, Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana’s coastline with winds as high as 150 miles per hour and a storm surge of up to nine feet, flooding communities and destroying homes. The Category 4 storm displaced thousands of people and left 1 million without power — all as the coronavirus surge overwhelms hospitals across the state.
Amid this chaos, Louisianans faced yet another hazard — the risk of exposure to toxic pollutants from explosions, flares, and accidental releases at disabled, damaged, or flooded industrial facilities.
A week after the storm made landfall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Response Center (NRC), which collects reports on oil, chemical, radiological, biological, and etiological discharges into the environment, had received more than 170 incident reports related to Ida. Many of these were in Louisiana, and 17 were air releases. Yet little is known about the effects as 13 of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s ambient air monitoring sites stopped collecting data due to power outages during the storm.
Virginia is home to thousands of unregulated and aging aboveground hazardous chemical storage tanks, which, when exposed to storms or floods, may be at greater risk of failing or spills. This risk — and the threat it poses to our health and safety — is rising as our climate changes.
Since these tanks are not regulated by the state or federal government, we know very little about their number, condition, age, or contents. If storage tanks are improperly constructed or maintained, they are more likely to fail under stress, and could release any number of toxic chemicals into nearby communities.
In addition to threatening community health and safety, the spills may also exacerbate existing disparities. In Virginia, industrial facilities vulnerable to flooding are disproportionately concentrated in socially vulnerable areas, according to a 2019 report by our colleague, David Flores.
Virginia is no stranger to failing tanks. In 2008, an …
To read the policy brief related to this post, click here.
Four years ago, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas, causing severe flooding in the Houston area and leading to a loss of electrical power throughout the region. During the blackout, a local chemical plant lost its ability to keep volatile chemicals stored onsite cool, and a secondary disaster ensued: A series of explosions endangered the lives of workers and first responders and spurred mass evacuations of nearby residents.
This infamous incident was a classic "double disaster" — a natural disaster, like a storm or earthquake, followed by a technical disaster, like a chemical release or explosion.
Also known as "natech" disasters, these events pose a severe and growing threat to public and environmental health — and to workers …
Since President Joe Biden assumed office, environmental justice has been at the front and center of his administration. One key initiative: developing better mapping tools to identify communities that may bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution and climate change impacts. Biden’s environmental justice (EJ) plan emphasizes the value of these tools and the need to improve them.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current tool — known as EJSCREEN — dates to 1994, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to collect, maintain, and analyze information on environmental and human health risks borne by low-income communities and people of color.
The EPA published EJSCREEN in 2015. It integrates demographic data (such as percent low-income, under the age five, over age 65, etc.) and environmental pollution measures at the block group or census tract level nationwide. The mapped data provide a visual …
Last week, a Maryland circuit court ruled that the state must regulate and limit ammonia pollution from industrial poultry operations. This landmark decision takes an important step toward protecting the environment and public health in the Old Line State and could spur similar action in other states.
It is certainly needed in Maryland. The state's Lower Eastern Shore is home to a large number of industrial poultry operations; three Lower Eastern Shore counties house close to 44 million chickens at any given time — roughly 241 times greater than the number of people in the region.
Every year, these operations release millions of pounds of ammonia — a form of nitrogen — into the environment, polluting our land, water, and air. Ammonia is a colorless compound formed when nitrogen in chicken manure breaks down. It enters the air as a gas and can land on the ground, polluting groundwater and …
This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun and was co-authored with Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County).
If you’re one of roughly 2 million Marylanders whose drinking water comes from a private well, you or your property owner is responsible for maintaining the well and ensuring its water is safe — no exceptions. That’s because federal clean water laws don’t cover private wells or small water systems, and state-level protections vary dramatically. In Maryland, those protections are few and far between.
In a recent Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) report on state-level efforts to protect private well owners, Maryland ranked among the five states with the fewest protections. Unlike other states, Maryland doesn’t offer well owners free or low-cost water testing kits or require water quality test results be disclosed during property sales. While the state does require new wells to meet certain …
Last week, I joined Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County) and State Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Carroll and Howard counties) to discuss pollution threats to the state’s drinking water and legislation that, if enacted, would create a private well safety program in Maryland.
The quality of drinking water holds personal significance for both legislators. Stewart grew up in a small Alabama town where a Monsanto chemical factory knowingly dumped toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) chemicals in the local water supply. He has since developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer associated with PCB exposure — twice.
Hester has also confronted this issue. When she moved to Ellicott City a few years ago, she discovered that hazardous levels of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas associated with lung cancer, were leaching into her home’s well water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate radon, so homeowners like …
UPDATE: On January 27, a federal district court in Montana found that the Trump EPA unlawfully made the censored science rule immediately effective. The court then delayed its effective date until February 5. This doesn't overturn the rule, but it does give the Biden-Harris administration more flexibility as it works to fully repeal this damaging policy.
In a last-ditch effort to further weaken the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to protect public health, this week, the Trump administration published its final “censored science” rule. As stated in the Center for Progressive Reform’s comments on the draft rulemaking, this proposal unjustifiably limits the research that can be used in regulatory decision-making, giving more weight to studies where the underlying data is publicly available. These restrictions will apply to dose-response studies — which measure how much an increase in pollution exposure increases public health harms — and which …
On October 22, we and millions of Americans watched the final presidential debate, taking in each candidate's plan for oft-discussed issues like health care, the economy, and foreign policy. Toward the end, the moderator posed a question that caught us and many others off guard: She asked the candidates how they would address the disproportionate and harmful impacts of the oil and chemical industries on people of color.
President Trump largely ignored the question. But former Vice President Joe Biden addressed it head on, sharing his own experience growing up near Delaware oil refineries and calling for restrictions on "fenceline emissions" — the pollution levels observed at the boundary of a facility's property, which too often abuts a residential neighborhood.
Many environmental justice advocates celebrated Biden's response, including Mustafa Santiago Ali, the former assistant administrator for environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who characterized Biden's response …
If you want to know what the world will look like as the climate crisis ramps up, you don't need a crystal ball. In fact, you need look no further than the past few months of 2020. Western states are fighting record-breaking wildfires, major flooding has plagued the Midwest, and we are in the midst of a historic hurricane season. This year marked the second time in history that the National Hurricane Center ran out of “human names” for tropical storms. They are now using the Greek alphabet, with Hurricane Zeta currently on its way to the Gulf Coast.
On October 20, CPR convened a group of researchers, advocates, and community organizers to discuss how the increasing frequency of extreme weather may impact coastal communities, especially those near hazardous industrial facilities vulnerable to damage. In the event of a power outage or flood, for example, these facilities …