Study: 4.6M children attend schools near chemical facilities

Nearly 10,000 schools across the country are located within a mile of a chemical facility, according to a watchdog group that is pushing new regulations.

The progressive Center for Effective Government released a report Wednesday that shows one in 10 students, or about 4.6 million children, attend school "in the shadow of a risky chemical facility." The report includes an interactive map that shows which schools are near these facilities.

Students in California, Texas, Illinois, North Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska face the greatest risk of exposure to these chemical facilities, the study found.

"The number of children who are potentially in harm's way is deeply troubling," Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government, said in a statement. "Minority and low-income kids bear the greatest risks, but no one is immune from this danger."

The report comes one year after a West Fertilizer Company storage facility located 18 miles north of Waco, Texas, caught fire, causing the ammonium nitrate inside the building to explode. The facility had not been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since 1985. 

The explosion killed 15 people, mostly firefighters, and injured more than 160 people. Many nearby homes and schools were also damaged by the explosion. 

In the wake of the explosion the Center for Effective Government and more than 100 other public interest groups have pushed for stronger chemical protections. They would like more stringent disclosure standards, stronger reporting requirements, and better emergency response plans. "But most importantly, the federal government must require that all facilities switch to inherently safer chemicals and processes whenever possible," the group said. 

The Center for Effective Government studied the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Risk Management Program to conduct the study. The center said these chemicals can be dangerous to the public if they are spilled, released into the air, or are involved in an explosion.

"In the year since the West, Texas, disaster, we've seen workers killed, drinking water poisoned, and entire towns evacuated," Sean Moulton, director of open government policy at the Center for Effective Government, said in a statement. "In state after state, town after town, people have been hurt or worse because of inadequate oversight, aging public and private infrastructure, and chemical industry battles against stronger standards and safeguards."

The Center for Effective Government may get a boost from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the top senator on environmental issues, who also called for stronger chemical protections on Wednesday. 

"As we remember the devastating chemical explosion that happened one year ago in West, Texas, we must not forget that more needs to be done to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future," said Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. 

"We must do everything we can to make chemical facilities safe for communities across the nation," Boxer added.