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 Allied Terminals tank in Chesapeake, Va., collapsed, seriously injuring two workers and releasing 200,000 gallons of liquid ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which upon contact or inhalation can cause irritation to skin, eyes, and the respiratory tract. Some of it also entered the Elizabeth River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
The U.S …