Home » Disaster Prep » Preparing for the Climate Crisis Must Include Mitigating Chemical Disasters
Disaster Prep

Preparing for the Climate Crisis Must Include Mitigating Chemical Disasters

chemical disasters-climate crisis-hazardous
chemical disasters-climate crisis-hazardous
Photo Courtesy of Brad Zweernik, Earthjustice

Oil refineries and chemical plants co-exist alongside neighborhoods throughout the country. As the climate crisis worsens, both will be impacted by more extreme weather.

Each year, millions of lives are upended by floods, wildfires, and hurricanes that are increasingly destructive as the climate crisis worsens. Extreme weather destroys homes, schools, and offices. It can also damage refineries, chemical plants, and other dangerous industrial facilities that can catch fire, explode, or leak poisons into communities. Chemical disasters just aren’t a theoretical threat. In 2017, in the wake of Hurricaine Harvey, Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, TX experienced substantial flooding that resulted in peroxide storage containers bursting into flames. Over 20 people were injured and another 200 were forced to evacuate the area as toxic plumes of smoke blanketed neighborhoods.

About one-third of the country’s hazardous chemical facilities are at risk from storms, wildfires, and climate-driven floods, according to the Government Accountability Office. Almost 200 million people, including one in three schoolchildren, are in the “worst-case scenario” zone for chemical catastrophes. These communities have already been grappling with ongoing exposure to air polluted with multiple toxic chemicals, otherwise known as “cumulative impact.” With hurricane season starting in June, safety protections from chemical disasters are urgent.  

Fortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing safety measures for hazardous industrial facilities that the Trump administration gutted. In fact, EPA just sent a proposal to the White House. President Biden must assure the strongest chemical disaster prevention rules. Updates should compel industries to prepare for climate disasters through safer technologies, give communities access to life-saving information, and establish multilingual notifications before disasters happen.

For years, companies left people in the dark about even the kinds of chemicals they live near, as well as health impacts from exposures. Moreover, the climate crisis is still ignored in chemical safety rules. This omission is a mistake.  As the climate crisis grows, so does the need for safety rules that protect people during extreme weather. The Biden administration must work quickly and meaningfully to reform rules to prevent chemical disasters, offset growing climate risks, and mitigate the health impacts from multiple chemicals exposure that workers and fenceline communities face. Families near polluting industrial complexes should no longer shoulder the unimaginable burden of toxic exposure and must be spared the fear and suffering of preventable chemical disasters.  

Next article