One of the worst disasters in recent history occurred in 2013 at the West Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, when an explosion and fire killed 15 people and injured hundreds more. There were more than 150 buildings in the area that were also destroyed, including several schools located within the vicinity of the plant. The explosion occurred in the evening, long after school children had gone home for the day. Had the incident happened while schools were in session, the number of children killed would likely have been extensive.
According to recent government studies, there are about 12,000 schools which are located within one mile of facilities which house dangerous chemicals. The EPA has required companies to have emergency plans in case of a toxic chemical release or other incident – that is how hazardous these chemicals are. Yet many have schools located withing walking distance.
Studies also show that not only are children in these schools at risk of danger from a hazardous incident, they are also being exposed to hazardous air pollutants which are known to affect neurological and respiratory health.
There is no federal law or regulation that restricts or stipulates distances between schools and facilities that use or store hazardous materials. Any regulations that do exist are at the local level and usually only apply to new schools being built, not to existing buildings.
The discussions of this issue are ongoing, with no real concrete solutions on the immediate horizon. Pushing for safer industrial processes is one factor being addressed, but it does not address what happens in the event of an actual disaster. Those answers appear to still be left to the state and municipalities to figure out.