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October 3, 2011Toxic Chemicals in Texas Fire Threaten Communities; Lax regulations on chemicals puts everyone at risk

Contact: Stephenie Hendricks, (415) 258-9151, shendricks@comingcleaninc.org

(Houston, TX) Responding to the news of a terrible fast moving fire in the Dallas suburban community of Waxahachie, Bryan Parras from Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service (t.e.j.a.s.) says, “The people who live around these facilities are the real victims. They live in a constant state of 'shock' that one day an accident will occur and their families will be exposed to the many 'unknown' chemicals on site. The firefighters and first responders are the second victims who come to the scene ignorant of the chemicals being stored inside. How is one expected to protect themselves or others without that knowledge beforehand? No child should have to be removed from school because of an industrial chemical fire.” 

Susan Smith, a grandmother living in the area, is concerned that there aren't clear communications systems in place in English, Spanish and other relevant languages, to protect rural and suburban residents when an emergency contamination happens. “It is unconscionable that we are being exposed to poisonous gases and that the company’s own spokespeople are telling media that they don’t know what they are. And they may address short term problems, but what about when we get sick years from now because of this exposure with cancer and other illness?” Smith was evacuating a grandchild who has health problems to a safer location, as of this writing.

"A major chemical plant fire near Dallas, Texas at the Magnablend Chemical Company supports a critical need for a strong Clean Air Act to protect public health from extraordinarily large volumes of toxic air pollution when accidents like this occur," stated Dr. Neil Carman, clean air program director for the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. "Most industrial accidents such as this one are preventable according to investigations of other chemical plant accidents," Carman emphasized.

Ironically, on Tuesday, Texas Congressman Ralph Hall of North Texas is holding an Energy and Environment Subcommittee Hearing: Quality Science for Quality Air to attack the US EPA at a time when the agency provides a critical role in protecting environmental quality.

The fire at the Magnablend Chemical Company has forced the evacuation of at least one elementary school and the nearby Navarro College, according to news reports. MSNBC reports that residents have been advised to stay indoors to avoid dangerous gasses.

Rick Hind, Legislative Director working on chemicals security with Greenpeace, reports “Approximately a thousand people were evacuated from schools, colleges and nursing homes, highways closed, a fire truck consumed by the fire, on site news media in the dark about which toxic chemicals are present, one reporter describing a scratchy throat and the smell of chemical, an air pollution monitoring team from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality didn't arrive until 3 hours after fire began (11:00 AM CDT), toxic "products of incomplete combustion" in the massive cloud of smoke threatens local communities for many miles down wind with health risks, concern about further explosions at existing tanks and railroad cars for hours or days, contamination visible in surface water, long term ground water contamination likely.”

Texas leads the nation with 106 chemical facilities plants that each pose a poison gas hazard to 100,000 people to surrounding communities. Hind continues: “At Magnablend's news conference three hours after the fire began, they named a few hazardous substances on site including: anhydrous ammonia, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and phosphoric acid but they failed to provide a comprehensive list of all chemical substances or their quantities on site. Fire fighters should have had more comprehensive information before entering the plant this morning. The loss of one of their trucks to the fire that put several fire fighters' lives at risk suggests they may have not had complete information about the plant's hazards.”

Chemical mixtures can result in spontaneous and catastrophic events. A formal investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is certainly warranted to determine what happened at Magnablend. Even if all safety procedures were followed, it is clear that those were inadequate to prevent this disaster which could have taken many lives and may have put workers, first responders and residents at risk of long term health problems as well as environmental
contamination.

Legislation to prevent chemical disasters has been stalled in Congress by members of the TX congressional delegation including Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) who represents Waxahachie. Barton voted against this legislation in Committee this year and again on the floor in Nov. 2009 when H.R.
2868 passed the House.

Information on toxic chemicals used and stored at chemical facilities is supposed to be available to the news media through the Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) established under 1986 Bhopal (industrial accident with Union Carbide/Dow Chemical in India in 1984) inspired legislation. The statute specifically lists journalists as eligible to be a member of an LEPC as well as first responders and local citizens. First responders are also supposed to have a complete list of substances at all local plants.

Additional Resources

Texas and Toxics; http://www.louisvillecharter.org/TexasToxics.shtml

Greenpeace on Chemical Security

Available for Comment

Susan Smith; (817) 907-2581. Local grandmother from the evacuating area.

Bryan Parras; Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services; (713) 303-5811, lucas77@gmail.com. Habla Espanol.

Rick Hind; Legislative Director, Greenpeace; (202) 319-2445, rick.hind@greenpeace.org. Rick is an expert on chemical policy and how weak regulations contributed to the tragedies in West, Texas and elsewhere in communities impacted by chemical disasters.

Jose Bravo; Director, Just Transition Alliance; National Coordinator, Campaign for Healthier Solutions; (619) 838-6694, jose@comingcleaninc.org. Jose works with communities contaminated with chemicals, which occurs mostly where low income people of color are living, although everyone is at risk.  Habla Espanol.

Richard Moore; Los Jardines Institute; Co-Chair, Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform; (505) 301-0276, ljinewmexico@gmail.com. Richard can talk about environmental justice issues and organizing in the Southwest, and TSCA reform.  Habla Espanol.

Anne Robertson; Member of the Board, Mt. Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center; anne@newconsciouscapital.com. Texas citizen who is working to bring greater awareness for TSCA reform.

Neil Carman, PhD; Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club; (512) 288-5772, neil_carman@greenbuilder.com. Dr. Carman is a chemist who can discuss the toxic chemicals communities are exposed to from the chemical plants.

 

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