When the Wake Forest University emergency communications systems called me at 12:01 am on Tuesday, February 1, I could not have guessed that it was about a chemical bomb capable of wiping out blocks and blocks of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The call warned university students to heed the city’s voluntary evacuation of the 6,500 people living within in a one-mile radius of the Winston Weaver fertilizer plant that was on fire — and in danger of exploding.
Thankfully, the fire did not injure anyone, and the bomb did not ignite.
Yet it is a wakeup call — in my case, literally — not only to those of us here in Winston-Salem but across our nation: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to protect the public from exploding fertilizer plants, but it has left them unregulated.
These last few days have been harrowing, to say the least, especially for those forced to evacuate or shelter in place under threat of incineration. But we were lucky. Others haven’t been.
Nearly 600 residents were killed by a massive fertilizer explosion in Texas City, Texas, in 1947. In 2013, a fire at the West Fertilizer plant, located in West, Texas, a town …
The Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently seeking public input on its efforts to revamp an important Clean Air Act program called the Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule for facilities that produce, store, or use large amounts of dangerous chemicals. It is meant to prevent catastrophes — like the 2017 Arkema explosion in Crosby, Texas — which not only put human lives and health in danger (especially for the communities of color that are disproportionately overrepresented in the shadows of these facilities), but also cause costly disruption for local economies.
My CPR colleagues contributed to a timely new policy brief explaining how the EPA must be particularly attentive to the new and unique threats posed by climate change as it goes about revamping its RMP rule to prevent "double disasters" that will become increasingly common unless chemical facilities are forced to take preventative action. They presented the …
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 …