“But every time a storm comes in, the dice are rolled and there is a chance there could be a release or explosion that could harm them and their families,” she said. “You have a double disaster to worry about.”
The sites do not currently require backup power, and responders often do not receive sufficient information about chemicals at the site to tackle leaks and fires. Environmental groups are also calling for aerial surveillance along fences around facilities and warnings in multiple languages to alert nearby neighborhoods of security threats.
These neighborhoods are usually disproportionately low-income and color communities. Blacks, Latinos, and other colored people make up nearly half of those who live within a mile of hazardous industrial locations regulated by the EPA, agency data shows.
The Obama administration had stepped up emergency preparedness at these locations, which must submit risk management plans to the EPA. However, President Donald J. Trump suggested weakening the ordinance instead.
President Biden is currently reviewing the rules that would apply to more than 12,000 industrial facilities in the United States, including chemical manufacturers, oil refineries, water treatment plants, fertilizer mills, and pulp and paper mills. More than 2,500 chemical plants in the USA are already in flood-prone areas.
The floods and widespread power outages also hampered EPA efforts to investigate the damage to 23 Superfund Toxic cleanup sites in Louisiana. On Tuesday, agency employees said they had rated 10 and found no chemical spills or other issues. Up to 60 percent of these locations are exposed to floods, storm surges, forest fires and rising sea levels, according to a congress audit in 2019.
Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist who has helped communities fight industrial pollution, said the combination of widespread power outages and leaks was particularly worrying.
“If much of the community doesn’t have access to electricity or the internet, they can’t get these alerts,” she said. “It could happen in your back yard or your side yard and you have no way of knowing.”