A chemical plant fire blazed last week at a Magnablend Inc. facility in Waxahachie, Texas as workers mixed a toxic assortment of chemicals. The owner, Scott Pendery, initially gave vague comments about the types of chemicals produced in the plant. However, he later stated that most of what the plant produces is a cocktail of chemicals blended specifically to be used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, used to extract natural gas.
Nearly 1,000 residents who live close to the chemical plants were forced to evacuate their homes. Ellis County emergency management officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for an apartment complex, an elementary school and a junior college.
Neither EPA officials nor the Waxahachie Fire-Rescue team were aware what Magnablend was producing at the plant. It is legal to blend fracking chemicals. However, federal law states that if enough dangerous chemicals are stored on site, the company must file a risk management plan. No such plan had been filed.
We do not yet know what effects the toxins from the fire will have on residents living close to Magnablend and the citizens on Waxahachie. Local, state and federal officials are currently conducting investigations. However, we do know that fires like these are only increasing the numerous health risks for individuals exposed to air toxics. A report by the EPA in 2006 found that 270 million Americans, or 90 percent of the nation, were exposed to air toxics at levels that increased their risk of cancer by more than the generally accepted risk level of one in one million. Additionally, communities near industrial facilities are often low-income and lack health insurance, and thus do not have the resources to cope with and recover from exposure to high levels of air toxics.
While emission events from facilities like Magnablend continue to represent a serious health threat to Texas citizens, elected state officials should be advocating for stronger health protections as opposed to fighting against them. State Representative Joe Barton, who represents Waxahachie, has historically not been supportive of human health issues in the legislature. Earlier this year, Barton claimed at a congressional hearing that reducing emissions of toxic mercury, sulfur dioxide and soot would not bring health benefits. He stated that, although he is "not a medical doctor," he offered the "hypothesis” that EPA estimates of the benefits of its proposed air toxics rule are "pulled out of the thin air" because there is no "medical negative" to mercury exposure.
Governor Perry also made statements recently about the air quality in Texas. He said, “We cleaned up our air in Texas more than any other state, during the decade of the 2000s.” Fact check debunked Perry’s statements and highlights the evidence that despite any improvement, Texas air quality still ranks among the most polluted in the country.
Texas is a great state, and we shouldn’t let it burn down. Let’s work harder to protect it and the people in it.