Are Your Schoolkids Threatened by Chemical Plants? An App for That

April 30, 2014

When the fertilizer depot in West, Texas, blew up, some middle and high schools were damaged beyond repair. Fortunately, none of the kids died. But it raised an issue that has been obvious — and too often ignored by news media — for years.

Now there's a new tool to help environmental journalists who want to know what schools in their area are near facilities that handle toxic, hazardous, explosive, or combustible materials. It was produced by the Center for Effective Government (CEG, formerly OMB Watch), from existing open data. The group's predecessor was one of the first to make public the data from EPA's Toxics Release Inventory.

The "Interactive Map" plots school locations against some of the nation's most hazardous industrial facilities — the ones required by law to file "Risk Management Plans." Those are hardly the only dangerous ones. For example, propane (or LP Gas) distributors got an exemption from the RMP law.

CEG's analysis shows that some 4.6 children at nearly 10,000 schools across the country are within a mile of a facility required to file an RMP plan.

The interactive map was released April 16, 2014, so it is still new. The WatchDog's test drive showed some flaws — the school and city searches work slowly. But CEG's history of data publishing offers reason for hope of improvement.