A recent one month investigation by the Associated Press (AP) found that fears of terrorism has made it extremely difficult for the public to find out what type of hazardous materials are being stored in their neighborhoods. In many communities, both the public and emergency workers have no idea that potentially explosive chemicals are being stored there.
The explosion at the West, TX fertilizer plant that occurred in April is a perfect example of this issue. After a fire broke out at the plant, there was a tremendous explosion, caused by ammonium nitrate, which was stored at the plant. Despite the known dangers of the chemical, the majority of the people in West, including the town’s EMS director, had no idea that ammonium nitrate was being stored at that facility.
But as the AP reports, there are hundreds of facilities, just like the West Fertilizer Co., sitting in the midst of schools, businesses, hospitals and residential neighborhoods. How many is unknown. When the AP made nationwide inquiries, 28 states responded, providing a count of over 120 facilities that are located in areas that put the public at serious risk. The other 22 states refused to provide the information.
Anyone located within a quarter to a half mile of a facility where an explosion occurs is at risk. Debris from the West explosion was found almost two miles away. Based on the information that was provided, more than 600,000 people who live within a quarter-mile of a facility, are living in a potential blast zone if as little as 190 tons of ammonium nitrate is detonated.
Some of the states that refused to provide the requested information cited the risk of terrorist attacks and their interpretations of federal law as the reason why. Ohio, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho and South Carolina were included in that group. West Virginia told the news organization they could either review the paper records in person, or request the records individually.
Statistically, however, Americans are more likely to be hurt from chemical or industrial accidents, such as the explosion in West, than from terrorist attacks, such as the Boston Marathon bombing.
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