While the Center for Progressive Reform staff advocate for stronger protections from toxic chemical spills, none of our experts assumed that one of our own would gain firsthand experience on the matter.
That all changed last January, when Board Member and Scholar Sid Shapiro received a surprise midnight phone call warning him that a nearby fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, N.C., had just caught fire. Inside the plant and stored in a tank outside were 500 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, threatening to incinerate nearby communities.
In the In Our Backyard Podcast, hosted by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Shapiro, David Flores, a former senior policy analyst at the Center, and Senior Policy Analyst Darya Minovi shared their perspectives on the Winston-Salem incident and what it means for communities at risk of chemical spills, which are disproportionately low-wealth communities of color. They explored the health safety risks involved and the role of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations in preventing disasters like this in the future.
Flores kicked off the series in episode five by describing the causes of the event. The plant had not met modern fire code regulations — having been grandfathered into the newest code …
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 …
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 …
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 …
June 1 marked the start of hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin. While not welcome, tropical storms, strong winds, and storm surges are an inevitable fact of life for many residents of the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast. As a new paper from the Center for Progressive Reform explains, with those storms can come preventable toxic flooding with public health consequences that are difficult to predict or control.
In Ernest Hemingway’s 1970 novel, Islands in the Stream, he wrote of his protagonist, Thomas Hudson, “He knew how to plot storms and the precautions that should be taken against them. He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.”
Only Hemingway could romanticize hurricanes. And things have only gotten worse. Last month …