This is the view of Richmond, California from San Francisco side of the bay after accident at Chevron. Photo credit: Chemical Safety Board.

Living on the Fence Line: A History of Chemical Threats to Black Communities

West Virginia State University, a 125-year-old historically black university, rested for decades on the fence line of a pesticide manufacturer, a stone’s throw from tanks holding lethal amounts of one of the world’s most dangerous and infamous chemicals, methyl isocyanate. The chemical, known as MIC, was responsible for the deaths of thousands of residents in Bhopal, India, in 1984 and was a process chemical for the Bayer CropScience pesticide plant in Institute, W.Va., on the Kanawha River nine miles west of Charleston. For years, Bayer had ignored pressure from nearby residents and the university to eliminate use of the compound. That evasion began to ebb in 2008, when the West Virginia plant blew up, killing two workers and forcing 40,000 residents and students to scramble into indoor shelters to dodge the smoke and particles that swept through the community. The university’s 3,500 students are not alone in living next to a dangerous neighbor. More than 11 million people of color reside on the fence line of large, high-risk U.S. chemical plants and oil refineries that

Read More »
The Hayes Lemmerz aluminum wheel manufacturing plant fire and explosion was one of three combustible dust industrial accidents that killed 14 workers in a single year. Photo credit: Chemical Safety Board.

Death by Dust

Tammy Miser got the call late at night from a family friend. Her brother Shawn may have been injured in a work accident and it might be serious. Shawn Boone was a maintenance man at the Hayes Lemmerz plant in Huntington, Ind., a manufacturer of aluminum automobile wheels. Tammy’s husband, Mark, worked at the plant and had helped Shawn, 33, get the job; Tammy was his big sister in a close family. She sped to the hospital in Indiana, a five-hour drive from her home in Kentucky. She was scared and flying blind. No official from the company or anywhere else had told her or anyone she knew about details of the accident. The family friend lived near the hospital and got there first. She told Miser that a nurse said a badly burned male had come in without identification. “We hoped and prayed it wasn’t Shawn,” Miser said. When she finally reached the hospital, Miser raced inside. An onsite pastor greeted her and told her to prepare herself because he hadn’t seen anything like

Read More »