“But every time a storm hits, the dice is being rolled and there’s the potential that there could be some kind of release or explosion that could harm them and their families,” she said. “They have to worry about a double disaster.”
Sites aren’t currently required to have backup power, and emergency responders often aren’t given sufficient information on chemicals at the site to fight leaks and fires. Environmental groups are also calling for air monitoring along fences surrounding facilities, and alerts issued in multiple languages, to keep nearby neighborhoods informed of any threats to safety.
Those neighborhoods tend to be disproportionately low-income and communities of color. Black, Latino and other people of color account for nearly half of those who live within one mile of hazardous industrial sites regulated by the E.P.A., agency data shows.
The Obama administration had moved to strengthen emergency preparedness at those sites, which are required to submit Risk Management Plans to the E.P.A. But President Donald J. Trump proposed weakening the regulation instead.
President Biden is now in the process of reviewing the rules, which would apply to more than 12,000 industrial facilities in the United States, such as chemical manufacturers, oil refineries, water treatment plants, fertilizer plants, and pulp and paper mills. More than 2,500 chemical facilities in the United States already lie in areas prone to flooding.
The flooding and widespread power failures were also hampering efforts by the E.P.A. to survey damage to 23 Superfund toxic cleanup sites in Louisiana. As of Tuesday, agency staff said they had assessed 10 and had found no chemical releases or other problems. As many as 60 percent of these sites are exposed to flooding, storm surge, wildfire, and sea level rise, a Congressional audit found in 2019.
Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist who has helped communities battle industrial pollution, said the combination of widespread power outages and leaks was particularly worrying.
“When a lot of the community doesn’t have access to electricity or internet, they can’t receive these alerts,” she said. “It could be happening in their backyard or their side yard and they have no way of knowing.”