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Rubbertown and an adjoining neighborhood are shown with downtown Louisville in the distance in 2012. / Michael Clevenger, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- About 134 million Americans live in chemical danger zones surrounding more than 3,400 sites across the nation, and those who live the closest to the plants tend to be minorities, according to a report published Thursday.

Kentucky has 76 such sites and Indiana has 84, according to the report, which was based on the federal safety records.

The national study's demographic analysis did not include state-by-state breakdowns. But it found that typically the closest neighbors of plants that store large quantities of deadly chemicals also have significantly lower home values and lower household incomes, and residents were more likely to be black or Latino.

They are also less likely to have graduated from high school or college, said the report "Who's In Danger? Race, Poverty and Chemical Disasters."

"This report really is a continuation and documentation of the fact that race and place are interrelated," Robert Bullard said during a conference call with reporters.

Bullard, dean of the Barbara Jordon-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston, said "low-income communities and communities of color are unprotected. Their rights are not the same as others who can drive in and out, and who can escape a disaster if a plant blows up by not being close by."

Of the Kentucky plants listed in the report, the Dupont plant in Louisville's Rubbertown complex puts the most people potentially at risk: more than 870,000 people within a 16-mile radius, depending on weather conditions and wind direction.

"At DuPont, our employees share a personal and professional commitment to protecting the environment and the safety and health of the people in the communities in which we operate," said Robin R. Ollis Stemple, a regional public affairs manager for the company. "We comply with federal regulations that require disclosure of chemicals manufactured and used at all of our sites.

Eboni Cochran, a leader in the Rubbertown Emergency Action group, said the national report "validates what people living near Rubbertown have been saying for years. We want full disclosure of what we are being exposed to, and we want companies to be required to seek safer alternatives."

She also called on local government to do more to protect the public.

"We haven't had a chance to see the report, but we will certainly review it," said Chris Poynter, spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. "Our community's safety is of utmost importance to the mayor and his team."

The national report was a collaboration of three organizations pressing the government and Congress for chemical policy reform and greater access to information about chemical dangers: Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Coming Clean, and the Center for Effective Government.

Plants that store large quantities of certain especially toxic chemicals - such as chlorine, formaldehyde and anhydrous ammonia - must file risk-management plans with local, state or federal officials. Those plans are required to contain "worst-case scenario" calculations showing how far chemical gases could spread and still harm people in the event of a catastrophic failure.

In March, The Courier-Journal reported that the number of Louisville companies storing enough of those risky chemicals to require participation in the risk-management program had dropped 25 percent in a decade - with 21 reporting, down from 28 in 2004.

Some industrial plants had closed. Others, such as the Louisville Water Co., have made their operations safer - no longer using such reportable chemicals as chlorine because of the risk of a toxic release.

Despite the reduction, however, most Louisville residents still live or work in a chemical-release danger zone, and some live in as many as five or six zones, where toxic releases could expose them to a half-dozen chemicals that could burn their skin or lungs or possibly kill them, according to the newspaper's analysis.

Chemical leaks covered by the Clean Air Act program have killed two people in Louisville in the past decade, the newspaper also found.

The story told in the national report "is one that will resonate with a lot of people who live in west Louisville," said Kentucky-based Elizabeth Crowe, associate director of Coming Clean. "You have a concentration of facilities there."

But the report also will likely resonate with many others in Kentucky who live near stockpiles of dangerous chemicals, she said.

The report makes it unusually easy to for people to check out worst-case risks from chemical stockpiles in their communities - information that government agencies guard closely as a matter of security.

In Kentucky, the identified and mapped plants are mostly west of the Interstate 75 corridor, with concentrations in Lexington, Northern Kentucky, Louisville, Western Kentucky and along the Ohio River.

As many as seven sites could sicken or kill people up to 25 miles away, according to the report.

In Indiana, the locations are largely scattered throughout the state, with only one plant, in LaPorte County, with a similarly large danger zone.

The government keeps a tight grip on chemical danger-zone details, making only a few full plans available at a time, and only allowing them to be viewed in person at federal reading rooms - with no photocopying allowed.

Because of that, researching the national report was difficult and time consuming, Crowe said. And it's also the reason the report recommends greater public access for communities.

The report also recommends that companies be required to evaluate and document whether there are safer chemicals or processes they could be using, and to employ them if feasible.

Current chemical safety and security regulations are not doing the job, the report concluded, and it took a swipe at the American Chemistry Council's voluntary Responsible Care program, calling it public relations.

The industry lobby group says otherwise, contending that Responsible Care has improved chemical plants' environmental, health, safety and security performance.

"Safeguarding chemical facilities and the surrounding communities is a top priority for ACC and our members," the council said in a statement provided by spokeswoman Jenny Heumann. She said the group's members have spent $13 billion making chemical facility security enhancements in the past decade, following provisions of its Responsible Care Code.

During the conference call, Henry Clark, a Richmond, Calif., environmental justice advocate, said he lives near an oil refinery that caught fire and exploded in 2012, sending 15,000 seeking medical care.

"Communities through the United States, similar to mine, are on the front line of the chemical assault," he said. "With this report, we are fighting back."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Report: Chemical stockpiles endanger poor, minorities

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