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Report: 1 in 3 School Kids Faces Risk of Chemical Catastrophe

GRAPHIC: Proximity to a high-risk chemical facility is part of the school day for 19.6 million kids who attend schools in so-called vulnerability zones, according to a new report. Image courtesy of Center for Effective Government.
GRAPHIC: Proximity to a high-risk chemical facility is part of the school day for 19.6 million kids who attend schools in so-called vulnerability zones, according to a new report. Image courtesy of Center for Effective Government.
October 1, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Schools are supposed to be a safe place to learn, but a new report finds that hundreds of thousands of Missouri kids attend schools inside what chemical companies call a "vulnerability zone."

The level of risk associated with a particular chemical facility has to do with the quantity of chemicals being handled, how dangerous those chemicals are and the proximity of the facility to population centers, said Sean Moulton, director of open-government policy for the Center for Effective Government.

"They estimate how far a major accident could reach outside of their facility," he said, "and then, that becomes the radius of a circular zone around the facility, and everyone inside that zone is potentially at risk."

According to the report, 270,000 Missouri kids, or 27 percent of students in the state, attend school within one of these vulnerability zones. It recommends greater oversight of these facilities, including a requirement that they switch to safer alternatives whenever feasible.

Moulton's group conducted a similar study earlier this year, drawing a one-mile buffer around each facility, that found low-income kids were most at risk. However, he said, the new methodology paints a broader picture.

"Many of these vulnerability zones are much larger than a mile," he said. "Some of them are 20, 25 miles large. These zones are so big that they really do cover all types of communities."

Moulton encouraged parents and community members to be aware of any nearby facilities, and to make sure schools within vulnerability zones have emergency plans in place in the event of a disaster.

"We have to insist that they use the safest feasible technologies and chemicals, that they store the smallest amounts of chemicals as possible, especially when they're in these high-population areas," he said. "And then, they can go directly to the facility and ask them why they're not being safer."

The full report, "Kids in Danger Zones," and an interactive map of high-risk chemical facilities are on the Center for Effective Government website, foreffectivegov.org.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO