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Originally published October 14 2014

Of U.S. children, 33% attend schools in high-risk chemical 'danger zones'

by Julie Wilson staff writer

(NaturalNews) Kids in Danger Zones, the title of a report exposing the nearly 20 million school children that are at risk of being affected by a chemical disaster took five years to compile, researchers say.

Released in September by the Center for Effective Government (CEG), the report [PDF] identifies the number children who attend a school located within the "self-reported vulnerability zone" of over 3,400 high-risk chemical facilities in the U.S.

The Vulnerable Zone Indicator System operates under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is made possible by two laws, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and the Clean Air Act's chemical accident prevention provisions, also known as the Risk Management Program (RMP).

Congress passed the laws intending to provide the public with information regarding "very hazardous chemicals" handled, stored or produced by companies.

"Every single child attending school in 102 counties in 22 states, a total of over 2.3 million kids, are in the chemical vulnerability zone of at least one facility," according to the EPA.

CEG's latest study mapped the locations of 122,968 public and private schools, which educate around 53.6 million students, against the vulnerability zones of about a quarter of the facilities that report to the RMP.

What they found was shocking.

"At least one in every three schoolchildren in America today (36% of pre-kindergarten through high school students) attends a school within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous chemical facility."

Most children, as well as their parents, are clueless to the fact that over 19.6 million children in 48 states are vulnerable to such zones, researchers say.

Aging infrastructure and inadequate inspections contribute to chemical disasters that have great potential to harm the nearby public, such as January's incident in which 300,000 West Virginia residents were left without water following a chemical spill caused by a dilapidated storage facility.

According to the report, half of these school children are in zones with more than one chemical threat, with Texas having the most at-risk school. San Jacinto Elementary School located in Deer Park, Texas, is "located in the vulnerability zones of 41 different chemical facilities," scientists stated.

The states with the most high-risk counties are Texas, Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana. Houston and Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are the most high-risk metro areas, meaning that they're home to schools in multiple vulnerability zones.

Memphis, Tennessee, and Wilmington, Delaware, also have many schools located in multiple vulnerability zones, the study found.

"All I can say for sure is it's a tremendous oversight," said the study's co-author. "It's a huge weakness of the program."

Ten chemical facilities, located in New Jersey, Texas, California and Illinois, considered to be "high-risk" reported having a vulnerability zone exposing over 500,000 children to chemical risks.
New Jersey's Kuehne Chemical Co. reported having a 14-mile vulnerability zone because it stores up to two million pounds of chlorine onsite.

"Depending on wind and weather conditions, an accident involving chlorine gas could expose over 861,000 children in Manhattan, Newark, and Jersey City to toxic vapors and respiratory damage," researchers concluded.

Reports sent to the RMP from companies that detail the types of chemicals used, the quantity stored and the radius of the area that would be potentially affected are not available online, said the report's co-author Sean Moulton, who is also the director of the Open Government Policy.

Freedom of Information Act requests on vulnerability zone information is rarely obtained. "It can only be accessed in EPA reading rooms and only 10 [such reports] a month [can be read]," said Moulton in an interview with Al Jazeera.


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