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New Report: “Kids in Danger Zones”

Lubbock Online, Oct. 5, 2014

1 in 5 students in Lubbock County attend classes near dangerous chemicals

Roughly one in five school-aged kids attend classes near a Lubbock County facility that stores dangerous chemicals, about twice as many as originally thought, according to a recent study.
The numbers likely could be higher.
Self-reported industry data tucked away in federal reading rooms across the United States show two of the known six facilities storing dangerous chemicals in Lubbock have a vulnerability zone wider than a 1-mile radius, according to a study by the Center for Effective Government, which released a new report last week.
That means there are roughly 9,500 students in 27 schools across the county who attend class near a facility that uses dangerous chemicals.
In May, A-J Media found about 4,200 students were at risk, but that number only reflected students attending class within a mile of a chemical facility. And it did not include detention facilities or private schools.
Researchers were only able to examine a limited number of the nation’s more than 12,000 chemical facilities. The center only examined two of the six facilities in the Hub City — Bayer CropScience and the Lubbock Water Treatment Plant.
Three of the four facilities with dangerous chemicals near Lubbock Independent School District campuses use and store anhydrous ammonia, a volatile chemical that can suffocate, burn the skin and cause blindness. In large quantities, it can be fatal. It is commonly used for refrigeration, among other uses.
Across the U.S., one in three students attends school in a vulnerability zone identified from self-reported industry data, the center reported.
Lubbock ISD Superintendent Berhl Robertson Jr. did not comment on the new study, but said in May he was not aware of all the chemical facilities near district schools, many of which are 50 years and older.
“Lubbock ISD has a plan for emergencies that impact our schools, both natural disasters and accidents, and we practice those plans,” Nancy Sharp, a district spokeswoman, said in an email to A-J Media.
Chris Wooden, whose wife is expecting their first child next month, called the report “startling and alarming.”
“It’s past the point of needing awareness to where something egregious is going on,” Wooden said.
“With chemical companies not making available the chemicals they are storing without prodding from the government and action groups, it’s scary.”
‘It only takes one bad day’
Roughly 865,000 pounds of toxic chemicals are stored at and used in Lubbock facilities, according to data compiled by the Center for Effective Government, a Washington, D.C., organization that advocates for better health and safety standards.
The city of Lubbock reported that the water treatment plant near the airport on North Guava Avenue has a vulnerability zone of 8 miles, meaning everything within that reported radius could be at risk of a chemical catastrophe.
The Bayer CropScience facility on Erskine Street, which had a spill and evacuation last year in the Guadalupe neighborhood, reported a 2.4-mile vulnerability zone.
There has been growing public concern about public safety in the wake of last year’s deadly fertilizer plant explosion in the small town of West, near Waco and about 340 miles southeast of Lubbock.
“The West Texas fertilizer plant handled their chemicals safely for decades,” said Sean Moulton, director of the Open Government Policy program at the Center for Effective Government.
While the public has pressed for more information about where dangerous chemicals are stored, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has clamped down on releasing it.
Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, has faced withering criticism from his Democratic challenger Wendy Davis and the public after he suggested in July that people drive to facilities and ask what chemicals are being used.
On July 10, after a local facility refused to release any information during a walk in, A-J Media requested information on hazardous chemicals that is required to be filed with the Lubbock Fire Department.
The city has not released any information.
In an Aug. 7 letter to Abbott’s office requesting an opinion, Assistant City Attorney Amy Sims said the information was exempt from disclosure.
Sims, citing Abbott’s earlier opinion, wrote that releasing the location and amounts of dangerous chemicals “may pose a risk to citizens of the city in the case of a terrorist attack.”
Abbott’s office has until Wednesday to respond.
“You have an attorney general down in Texas saying we need to hide this information as though the information was dangerous, not the chemical,” Moulton said.
“People have a right to know if there’s a risk.”
By NICOLE C. BRAMBILA, A-J MEDIA