This entire scenario is unfolding in front of a familiar backdrop: climate change. A recent poll of black physicians released by the National Medical Association identified clear health impacts disproportionate to black communities from climate change, including an increase in the severity of chronic illnesses due to air pollution. Add to that the toxic stew when chemical tanks and pipelines become compromised during extreme weather events such as hurricanes and tornadoes, and you'll see that the communities of color near chemical plants bear the brunt of toxic chemical exposure with the increased chance of chemical disasters from climate change.
Now we want it understood that we are grateful that President Obama issued an executive order in August 2013 to study the threats of chemical plants blowing up. We appreciate that unlike any other previous administrations, Obama's Environmental Protection Agency has sent staff out to communities and engaged groups like the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance to help figure out a solution. We also applaud Vice President Joe Biden for supporting a plan to encourage the chemical industry to use what is called Inherently Safer Technologies.
We're concerned that the new interagency report, released in June, merely suggests a "voluntary" effort from the chemical industry to put in place plans to reduce the chemical-disaster threat. This is an industry that is not known for its transparency or honest dealings about the chemicals they make. Renowned journalist Bill Moyers addressed this along with the industry attacks on the emerging science about the impacts of these chemicals. The chemical industry has not proved to us that they have the integrity to successfully manage a "voluntary" process.
We want the government to lay down the law to the petrochemical industry. It's time to be clear that these companies are responsible for their products doing harm. They should be accountable to the communities where they make chemicals, to the workers, and to those who buy their chemicals.
We want President Obama's Interagency Task Force on Chemical Disasters to design and implement strong protections from chemical disasters for those in harm's way. We want the petrochemical corporations held accountable for the destruction they cause. We want this for all people, of all colors living in danger from chemical disasters. And we want it now, before more people become sick, sicker, or die from preventable chemical catastrophes.
Richard Moore is the executive director of the Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque, N.M., co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance, and was a founding member of the EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
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