petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic
Shell's petrochemical complex in southwestern Pennsylvania. (Credit: Nate Smallwood for Environmental Health News and Sierra Magazine)

Tracking petrochemical accidents across the US

A new database monitors fires, flares, spills and other accidents at petrochemical plants.

A new database launched yesterday tracks petrochemical accidents across the U.S. and highlights the dangers that these fires and spills pose to nearby communities.

Beyond Petrochemicals, a campaign by Bloomberg Philanthropies*, launched the tool dubbed Spill Tracker, which will comb through news and government reports of petrochemical accidents that involve harmful chemicals like vinyl chloride, ammonia and benzene.

Vinyl chloride is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a carcinogen, and has been linked to higher rates of lung and liver cancer, as well as liver disease, neurological problems and miscarriage. Benzene is a known carcinogen as well. These are just two of the common pollutants at the plants; others include PM2.5, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, nitrogen oxides, and ground-level ozone.

Petrochemicals are chemicals derived from petroleum and are largely used to make plastics and fertilizers, which, together, account for 74% of produced petrochemicals. The plants are often clustered together, bolstering the risk for nearby communities. The largest concentration is along the Houston Ship Channel, which has hundreds of oil and gas facilities and was recently dubbed a “sacrifice zone” by human rights group Amnesty International. The most recent petrochemical incident, according to Spill Tracker, was four days ago in nearby Freeport, Texas, where there was an electrical fire at the Shintech Freeport Plant.

“In Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and beyond, our neighbors are going to the hospital and facing serious illness after prolonged exposure to not only the everyday pollution from the petrochemical industry but the frequent incidents caused by its production and transportation,” said Heather McTeer Toney, executive director of Beyond Petrochemicals, in a statement.

McTeer Toney pointed to last year’s train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, to highlight that communities beyond the fenceline are in danger too. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the East Palestine derailment.

The database will be busy. Previous reporting found the country averages a chemical accident about every other day.

“These are not isolated incidents and are absolutely preventable,” Jess Conard, East Palestine resident and Appalachia Director for Beyond Plastics, said in a statement. “We are all tired of living with this reality and together we will hold the petrochemical industry accountable.”

Visit Spill Tracker.

Editor’s note: Environmental Health News receives some funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

2023 record-breaking global heat
Credit: R Boed/Flickr

Summer of 2023 was the hottest in two millennia, says study

A new study analyzing ancient tree rings reveals that last summer was the hottest in the past 2,000 years, with unprecedented warmth across the Northern Hemisphere.

Doyle Rice reports for USA Today.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less

Insurance woes increase as climate change impacts profitability

In Iowa, a state typically seen as low-risk for insurers, companies are withdrawing due to increased losses caused by climate change.

Christopher Flavelle reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less

US electricity grid set for major overhaul to meet increasing demands

Federal regulators have approved vital changes to enhance the U.S. power grid, aiming to counteract the current infrastructural inadequacies and frequent power shortages.

Evan Halper reports for The Washington Post.

Keep reading...Show less

New tariffs on Chinese goods by the Biden administration amidst campaign tensions

Amidst election-year campaigning, the Biden administration introduces new tariffs targeting Chinese electric vehicles and other key products.

Josh Boak, Fatima Hussein, Paul Wiseman, and Didi Tang report for The Associated Press.

Keep reading...Show less

EU nations push to preserve biodiversity laws

Eleven EU countries, spearheaded by Ireland, advocate for the ratification of pivotal biodiversity restoration laws, aiming for legislative success within the month.

Lisa O'Carroll reports for The Guardian.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
air pollution pittsburgh

Amidst a controversial international sale, U.S. Steel falls behind in cleaner steelmaking

U.S. Steel’s proposed sale to Nippon Steel stokes concerns over labor rights and national security, all while the company continues to break clean air laws in Western Pennsylvania.

exxon houston petrochemicals

Spanish-speaking residents feel left out of permitting process at massive Exxon petrochemical plant in Houston-area

“It is important to ensure meaningful engagement efforts are inclusive and accessible to all diverse members of our communities.”

youth climate change

"Our lives might be on the line"

Eighth graders reflect on the state of the planet.


After 13 years, no end in sight for Caribbean sargassum invasion

Thousands of people were hurt by sargassum blooms last year in the Caribbean.

youth climate change

“We should take care of what is precious to us"

Eighth graders reflect on the state of the planet.

earth day 2024

Earth Day reflections from the next generation

This week we're featuring essays from Houston-area eighth graders to hear what the youth think about the state of our planet.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.