Map of reported chemical accidents in the US created by ‘Coalition to prevent chemical disasters’.
Red icons indicate accidents from 1 January to 31 December 2022.
Purple icons indicate accidents since 1 January 2023.
Mike DeWine, the Ohio governor, recently lamented the toll taken on the residents of East Palestine after the toxic train derailment there, saying “no other community should have to go through this”, informs “The Guardian”.
But such accidents are happening with striking regularity. A ‘Guardian’ analysis of data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and by non-profit groups that track chemical accidents in the US shows that accidental releases – be they through train derailments, truck crashes, pipeline ruptures or industrial plant leaks and spills – are happening consistently across the country.
By one estimate these incidents are occurring, on average, every two days.
“These kinds of hidden disasters happen far too frequently,” Mathy Stanislaus, who served as assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of land and emergency management during the Obama administration, told ‘The Guardian’.
In the first seven weeks of 2023 alone, there were more than 30 incidents recorded by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, roughly one every day and a half. Last year the coalition recorded 188, up from 177 in 2021. The group has tallied more than 470 incidents since it started counting in April 2020.
The incidents logged by the coalition range widely in severity but each involves the accidental release of chemicals deemed to pose potential threats to human and environmental health.
In September, for instance, nine people were hospitalized and 300 evacuated in California after a spill of caustic materials at a recycling facility.
In October, officials ordered residents to shelter in place after an explosion and fire at a petrochemical plant in Louisiana.
In November, more than 100 residents of Atchinson, Kansas, were treated for respiratory problems and schools were evacuated after an accident at a beverage manufacturing facility created a chemical cloud over the town.
Among multiple incidents in December, a large pipeline ruptured in rural northern Kansas, smothering the surrounding land and waterways in 588,000 gallons of diluted bitumen crude oil. Hundreds of workers are still trying to clean up the pipeline mess, at a cost pegged at around $488m.
The vast majority of incidents occur at the thousands of facilities around the country where dangerous chemicals are used and stored. “What happened in East Palestine, this is a regular occurrence for communities living adjacent to chemical plants,” said Stanislaus. “They live in daily fear of an accident.”
In all, roughly 200 million people are at regular risk, he said.
There are close to 12,000 facilities across the nation that have on site “extremely hazardous chemicals in amounts that could harm people, the environment, or property if accidentally released”, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued last year. These facilities include petroleum refineries, chemical manufacturers, cold storage facilities, fertilizer plants and water and wastewater treatment plants, among others.
EPA data shows more than 1,650 accidents at these facilities in a 10-year span between 2004 and 2013, roughly 160 a year.
More than 775 were reported from 2014 through 2020.
Additionally, after analyzing accidents in a recent five-year period, the EPA said it found accident-response evacuations impacted more than 56,000 people and 47,000 people were ordered to “shelter-in-place.”
Accident rates are particularly high for petroleum and coal manufacturing and chemical manufacturing facilities, according to the EPA. The most accidents logged were in Texas, followed by Louisiana and California.
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