Last week, my colleagues and I advocated for a pair of clean water bills in Maryland and Virginia, which were spurred by research completed by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). One bill would create a Private Well Safety Program in Maryland, and the other would create an aboveground chemical storage tank registration program in Virginia.
Both laws are sorely needed. This two-part blog series explains why. Part I, which ran yesterday, explores our collaborative work to protect clean drinking water in Maryland. Today, we look at our efforts to protect Virginia’s health and environment from toxic chemical spills.
As climate change intensifies, Virginia’s coastal and riverine communities are increasingly under threat of sea-level rise, hurricanes, and storm surge. Research published in 2019 by my colleague David Flores, a senior policy analyst at CPR, and CPR Member Scholar Noah Sachs found that flooding not only impacts socially vulnerable communities but also increases risks of toxic spills and releases at many chemical and hazardous facilities in the commonwealth.
One gap that heightens this risk: lack of regulations for aboveground tanks that store dangerous chemicals.
Aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) storing hazardous substances are not regulated by the U.S. Environmental …
Last week, my colleagues and I advocated for a pair of clean water bills in Maryland and Virginia, which were spurred by research completed by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). One would create a Private Well Safety Program in Maryland, and the other would create an aboveground chemical storage tank registration program in Virginia.
Both laws are sorely needed. This two-part blog series explains why. Today’s piece looks at our efforts to protect clean drinking water in Maryland; check back tomorrow for Part II, which explores our collaborative efforts to protect Virginians from toxic chemical spills.
In 2020, CPR policy analyst Katlyn Schmitt and I investigated nitrate concentrations in drinking water on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore — where much of the state’s agricultural activity is concentrated — and analyzed state policies designed to protect private well owners. We found that Maryland was one of five …
This op-ed was originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.
Climate change is quickly evolving into climate catastrophe, and there’s a narrow window of time to do something about it. While the world works on solutions, there’s surprisingly little focus on the chemical industry, which accounts for roughly 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions — as well as other environmental harms.
Weak or nonexistent regulations of the industry have led to widespread cancer, respiratory illnesses, and even facility explosions, primarily in low-income communities and communities of color.
But the industry essentially has a free pass to continue business as usual — it just keeps on keepin’ on, with little accountability.
The same holds true when it comes to the industry’s contributions to our warming planet, which is happening in three major ways:
First, fossil fuels are the “feedstocks” for …
The Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) joined Coming Clean and more than 100 organizations calling for major transformations to the chemical industry — a significant yet overlooked contributor to the climate crisis and toxic pollution in communities.
The groups unveiled new guidance this week for regulators, policymakers, advocates, and industry to phase out chemicals and their adverse impacts. The guidance – contained in the Louisville Charter for Safer Chemicals – was first developed in 2004 by grassroots, labor, health, and environmental justice groups and updated this year to strengthen recommendations as the climate changes.
The updated charter includes 10 planks, or priority areas, alongside reports highlighting policy solutions to phase out persistent, toxic, and cumulative chemical pollution. CPR contributed to the background report for Plank #1, which calls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), policymakers, and businesses to address the chemical and petrochemical industry’s contributions to climate …
The Clean Water Act turns 50 next year.
This landmark law has led to some great environmental successes — waterways that were once basically open sewers have been returned to their former scenic beauty, capable of supporting aquatic life and providing drinking water to millions of Americans.
It has also made possible countless water protection careers in public service and private industry, as well as many types of pollution control technologies.
In at least one area, though, public protections related to the Clean Water Act have not advanced at all — despite Congress’ 1972 mandate to the contrary.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of aboveground storage facilities containing hazardous chemicals — such as arsenic, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene — are not subject to state or federal rules designed to prevent and mitigate spills. These storage tanks sit along our industrialized waterfronts and at agricultural supply depots in our rural communities, threatening …
On August 29, Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana’s coastline with winds as high as 150 miles per hour and a storm surge of up to nine feet, flooding communities and destroying homes. The Category 4 storm displaced thousands of people and left 1 million without power — all as the coronavirus surge overwhelms hospitals across the state.
Amid this chaos, Louisianans faced yet another hazard — the risk of exposure to toxic pollutants from explosions, flares, and accidental releases at disabled, damaged, or flooded industrial facilities.
A week after the storm made landfall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Response Center (NRC), which collects reports on oil, chemical, radiological, biological, and etiological discharges into the environment, had received more than 170 incident reports related to Ida. Many of these were in Louisiana, and 17 were air releases. Yet little is known about the effects as 13 …
Virginia is home to thousands of unregulated and aging aboveground hazardous chemical storage tanks, which, when exposed to storms or floods, may be at greater risk of failing or spills. This risk — and the threat it poses to our health and safety — is rising as our climate changes.
Since these tanks are not regulated by the state or federal government, we know very little about their number, condition, age, or contents. If storage tanks are improperly constructed or maintained, they are more likely to fail under stress, and could release any number of toxic chemicals into nearby communities.
In addition to threatening community health and safety, the spills may also exacerbate existing disparities. In Virginia, industrial facilities vulnerable to flooding are disproportionately concentrated in socially vulnerable areas, according to a 2019 report by our colleague, David Flores.
Virginia is no stranger to failing tanks. In 2008, an …
To read the policy brief related to this post, click here.
Update: Read Senior Policy Analyst David Flores and Policy Analyst Darya Minovi's July 8 testimony to EPA.
Four years ago, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas, causing severe flooding in the Houston area and leading to a loss of electrical power throughout the region. During the blackout, a local chemical plant lost its ability to keep volatile chemicals stored onsite cool, and a secondary disaster ensued: A series of explosions endangered the lives of workers and first responders and spurred mass evacuations of nearby residents.
This infamous incident was a classic "double disaster" — a natural disaster, like a storm or earthquake, followed by a technical disaster, like a chemical release or explosion.
Also known as "natech" disasters, these events pose a severe and growing threat to public and environmental health — and to workers …
Since President Joe Biden assumed office, environmental justice has been at the front and center of his administration. One key initiative: developing better mapping tools to identify communities that may bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution and climate change impacts. Biden’s environmental justice (EJ) plan emphasizes the value of these tools and the need to improve them.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current tool — known as EJSCREEN — dates to 1994, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to collect, maintain, and analyze information on environmental and human health risks borne by low-income communities and people of color.
The EPA published EJSCREEN in 2015. It integrates demographic data (such as percent low-income, under the age five, over age 65, etc.) and environmental pollution measures at the block group or census tract level nationwide. The mapped data provide a visual …
Last week, a Maryland circuit court ruled that the state must regulate and limit ammonia pollution from industrial poultry operations. This landmark decision takes an important step toward protecting the environment and public health in the Old Line State and could spur similar action in other states.
It is certainly needed in Maryland. The state's Lower Eastern Shore is home to a large number of industrial poultry operations; three Lower Eastern Shore counties house close to 44 million chickens at any given time — roughly 241 times greater than the number of people in the region.
Every year, these operations release millions of pounds of ammonia — a form of nitrogen — into the environment, polluting our land, water, and air. Ammonia is a colorless compound formed when nitrogen in chicken manure breaks down. It enters the air as a gas and can land on the ground, polluting groundwater and …