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Report: A Third of KY Kids Face 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, including two out of every five in Kentucky, 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, including two out of every five in Kentucky, according to a new report. Image courtesy of Center for Effective Government.
October 13, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. - It's supposed to be a safe place to learn, but a new report finds that two out of every five Kentucky children attend schools inside what chemical companies call a "vulnerability zone."

Sean Moulton, director of Open Government Policy program with the Center for Effective Government, says the level of risk associated with a particular chemical facility has to do with the quantity of chemicals being handled, how dangerous they are, and the proximity of the facility to population centers.

"They estimate how far a major accident could reach outside of their facility," says Moulton. "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, nearly 295,000 children are in danger zones in Kentucky for chemical leaks, gas clouds, or explosions. Kentucky is one of four states that have the most high-risk counties, along with Texas, Louisiana and Virginia. The report recommends greater oversight of these facilities, including a requirement 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 says the new methodology paints a broader picture.

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

The five Kentucky counties where students are most at risk, according to the report, are Boyd, Greenup, Henderson, Marshall and McCracken with 100 percent of children there in "vulnerability zones."

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

"We have to insist 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," Moulton says. "Then, they can go directly to the facility and ask them why they're not being safer."

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

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY