As a global phenomenon, climate change is escalating and causing extreme weather events with increasing frequency. Although climate change has been a problem since the early 19th century, it has been the worst damage to the environment in the last 40 years.
The main causes of climate change are destructive human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation and overuse of modern transportation. Climate change poses a major threat to the chemical industry as many plants are located in low-lying coastal areas such as the US Gulf Coast and are vulnerable to damage from hurricanes and floods. These natural disasters are becoming more frequent due to climate change.
There are approximately 872 chemical plants that are likely to experience a climate change induced release of hazardous substances within 50 miles of the US Gulf Coast. Alarmingly, more than 4,374,000 people live in close proximity to these chemical plants, making these communities vulnerable to toxin exposure should one of the chemical plants be struck by a natural disaster. That's because most chemical plants in the United States are unprepared to respond to extreme weather events caused by climate change. More than 3,200 of the 10,420 facilities nationwide required to have a risk management plan, including a large number of chemical facilities, are at high risk of releasing hazardous substances into the environment due to natural disasters caused by warming weather.
Note:- Official websites Climate change is endangering the health of communities living near chemical facilities
The health effects of toxic exposure from chemical accidents in nearby communities
Unfortunately, people living near chemical plants already have a lower quality of life than the general population as these plants often emit toxic substances into the air and water due to their activity. Chemicals released from chemical plants enter the body primarily through the respiratory tract.
At best, these chemicals cause allergic reactions and some respiratory symptoms. However, many people who live in close proximity to a chemical plant struggle with acute or chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, skin and eye conditions, acute bronchitis, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that exposure to chemicals from the release of hazardous substances caused by a natural disaster is much more likely to result in serious health problems and illness if the incident is not promptly and appropriately addressed.
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The following are some of the toxins that a chemical spill can bring to areas inhabited by vulnerable communities and the impact they can have on people's health.
Exposure to PCBs linked to several types of cancer
A group of man-made chemicals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs for short) are clear to yellow, oily liquids or solids with no odor or taste. These chemicals are likely human carcinogens and cause melanoma, liver cancer, gallbladder cancer, bile duct cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, brain cancer, and possibly breast cancer. However, more research is needed to classify PCBs as known human carcinogens.
However, the fact that they are toxic chemicals is undeniable, and short-term exposure can cause irritation of the nose and lungs, skin problems such as severe acne and rashes, and eye problems. In addition, exposure to PCBs during pregnancy has been found to cause neurological and motor problems in children, including lower IQ and poor short-term memory.
Heavy metals can have devastating effects on the health of communities
While not all heavy metals are dangerous, some are highly toxic, like mercury and lead. Exposure can cause gastrointestinal and kidney dysfunction, nervous system disorders, vascular damage, immune system dysfunction, skin lesions, birth defects, and cancer, including breast, lung, stomach, and bladder cancer.
It should be noted that heavy metals may not accumulate in the body in such a large concentration that they cause a serious health problem. But even when people have only trace amounts of heavy metals in their bodies, they can experience abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Dioxin contamination, extremely harmful to the skin
Interestingly, some dioxins are PCB compounds, but they are chemicals other than PCBs. They come from various industrial combustion processes and inhalation is the only route of exposure. When dioxins are released as a result of a natural disaster caused by climate change, surrounding communities are exposed to these chemicals for a long time while they remain in the environment. This puts people at high risk for cancer, reproductive problems, immune system damage, and hormonal imbalances.
Dioxins can also enter the food supply. So when the community grows various crops near a chemical plant that releases these chemicals, people can get chloracne, a skin condition, and other skin lesions such as rashes and skin discoloration. Finally, dioxin exposure can cause developmental problems in children, reproductive and infertility problems in adults, and miscarriages in women.
What can be done to minimize the problem of climate change pollution in vulnerable communities?
To mitigate the health impact of a potentially hazardous chemical spill caused by climate change, facilities must develop clear, comprehensive, and effective contingency plans to prepare for extreme weather events that are sure to become more frequent and intense.
The Government Accountability Office urges the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that chemical plants have an emergency plan to manage the risks of climate change and protect surrounding communities from chemical disasters. At the moment, the rules are very lax and most of the chemical plants that could be affected by a natural disaster caused by climate change do not have contingency plans.
Rules need to be tightened as soon as possible to keep communities and workers safe. Hundreds of chemical disasters occur in the United States each year, highlighting serious loopholes in the agency's Clean Air Act Hazard Management Plan rule.
Under the Clean Air Act of 1990, the Hazard Management Plan rule requires chemical plants to develop plans that identify the potential impact of a chemical accident, establish preventative measures, and initiate an emergency response. Although these facilities are designed to assess all possible causes of emergencies, a Government Accountability Office report found that risks from climate change were not considered. As a result, chemical plants do not have enough information on how to deal with natural disasters, such as hurricanes and rising sea levels.
Communities that live near chemical plants that could release hazardous substances should also have an emergency plan. To make sure they have extra protection in the event of a chemical disaster, people need to band together and get the attention of local politicians.
In some states, local governments may enact their own laws requiring the chemical industry to comply with more stringent regulations. Another preventative step communities can take is to contact federal emergency response agencies to schedule meetings and practice sessions that help people learn more about the roles community members can play and their responsibilities during a crisis. climate.