The recent train derailment and explosion in Ohio that released toxic chemicals was newsworthy given the magnitude of the crash, toxic releases and affected area. Our chosen way of life is dependent on all types of industrial chemicals and processes, and chemical spills and releases are common. Another fact is that these unhealthy contaminant discharges are more likely to disturb lower income and minority communities, a type of environmental injustice.
The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters is a group of organizations that have been working “to support policies that can help prevent catastrophic chemical fires and explosions, which occur constantly across the US.” The organization, which has been in place for over ten years, has tallied over 1500 chemical releases or explosions, over 17,000 injuries, 58 deaths and the evacuation or maintain shelter order for over a half a million people. Their work has identified “over 12,000 high-risk chemical facilities” in the United States. In the US, millions of people live, work or attend school nearby industrial processes.
Over the past two decades, the US Environmental Protection Agency has “performed an average of 235 emergency response actions per year, including responses to discharges of hazardous chemicals or oil.” Most of the accidents have been in Louisiana and Texas, where numerous fossil fuels refineries are located. The EPA has also documented an increase in accidental chemical releases, an indication that the current laws and regulations are not protecting people and the environment. The former federal administration notably weakened laws and regulations and these decisions put our most vulnerable communities at greater risk.
“A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si)
Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.