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1,000 Toxic Chemical Accidents Prior to the West, Texas Explosion

Posted By Arnold & Itkin LLP || 20-May-2013

In light of the tragic plant explosion in West, Texas on April 17, the topic of toxic chemical exposure is surfacing yet again. However, what many don't realize is this fertilizer plant explosion is not a standalone incident, in fact there have been 1,000 reported accidents over the past 15 years relating chemical facilities. Last month's explosion claimed the lives of 15 victims in the nearby community and resulted in 200 injuries, leveling out nearly a third of the city from the blast. While there were no workers on site at the time of the explosion, the community suffered immensely and though it may have been one of the more devastating chemical incidents in the recent years, it is not the only one.

Not even one month ago, Tyson Foods agreed to pay the high fines of $4 million to the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their violations of the Clean Air Act at their 23 different facilities located in four states. Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri were all admitting dangerously high levels of the same toxic chemical found at the West explosion site, anhydrous ammonia. Between 2006 and 2010 their facilities were reported to have released such high levels of this toxic chemical not only into the environment but also at a level that caused numerous workers to sustain injuries and one death was reported.

Though there was not an explosion on their site like the facility in West, Tyson released extensive amounts of the anhydrous ammonia into the air which is dangerous to both the environment and the people. At small levels of exposure, the chemical may lead to extremely irritated eyes, and in higher levels it may cause varying levels of chemical burns, blindness, and even death. Due to the hazardous levels of this chemical, any facility that houses over 10,000 pounds is required to report to the government for risk management, particularly due to the explosive tendencies this chemical agent is known to obtain.

At this time there are 8,000 facilities nationwide holding that level or more of the anhydrous ammonia chemical, and if heated in any way each of these locations have the potential for a devastating explosion like the one in West. According to the Center for Effective Government (CEG) out of the one thousand accidents in the past decade and a half, it has resulted in the injury of 1,651 people and over $350 million in property damages. That is not to mention the 63,676 people who were displaced when they were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses because of the dangers of the chemical accidents in nearby facilities. These accidents occurred at 678 facilities during this period, and 133 of them are said to have had numerous reports of accidents not heir sites, likely linking to violations in government standards for industrial facilities. The CEG notes hat a large quantity of the accidents reported over the 15 years are related specifically to anhydrous ammonia, and though they were not large explosions they still resulted in fires, spills and chemical releases.

The Dow Chemical Facility located in Freeport, Texas is just one mile away from a small town housing just over 1,000 people. In just the last 15 years this facility alone has reported 15 accident not heir site; causing 19 injuries of their workers. Not only that, but over 100 people were forced to evacuate their homes, causing more that $11 million in collective property damages on their small town. The CEG warns the people nationwide living near these facilities to do their research and find out whether the facility has a risk management plan with the government in order to be prepared for an accident that will likely happen at one point.

After having accessed the countless threats to surrounding communities of the chemical facilities nationwide, the National Environmental Justice Advisory (NEJAC), a federal advisory group to the EPA, sought to discuss the dangers that the communities were in. The NEJAC addresses specific threats, largely pointing gout that there needs to be tighter standards for chemical storage, and includes a plea to use less toxic chemicals on their sites. One year passed, and still no changes have been made. Another attempt was made by the organization to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) specifying that out of the 8,000 chemical facilities in the nation, 6,985 of them would impact at least 1,000 people in the nearby communities or more.

Ninety of the facilities would cause harm potentially to over 1 million people if there were to be a chemical accident on their site. Just days before the West explosion, Sen. Lautenberg (an advocate for the cause) reintroduced the Safe Chemicals Act to federal legislators seeking to implement change on chemical plants. This bill would reform how the feds regulate the facilities and it would strengthen the safety programs by the EPA. Unfortunately, Lautenberg has been fighting to these changes for almost a decade now, and despite the countless accidents, little reform has occurred yet. Perhaps the plant explosion in West, Texas will be the wakeup call that the government needs to implement change.

If you or a loved one has been affected by a chemical plant accident, contact a trusted industrial injury lawyer at Arnold & Itkin LLP today to discuss taking legal action. We will fight relentlessly on your behalf, don't wait to take action before it is too late.

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