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Study Reveals 1 In 8 WV Kids Attend School In Chemical Risk Zone
By Kera Mashek
May 28, 2014

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) More than four months after the Freedom Industries chemical spill, which contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 people, a new study takes a closer look at the risk of chemical exposure across the country.

Part of that report finds that 38,000 West Virginia kids attend school in what's considered a "chemical vulnerability zone".

We had a potential scare with something like that Wednesday in Putnam County, but because there wasn't a chemical release and no immenent threat, no special precautions were taken for students attending school near the John Amos plant.

But schools across the region say because of the constant potential threats, they're equipped to handle chemical disasters and that the recent Sissonville pipeline explosion and water crisis were good tests of those polices.

In the shadows of several schools in the Kanawha valley, you'll find plants, many of them that use potentially hazardous chemicals. In fact, a new report finds one in every eight West Virginia kids attend schools within one mile of facilities with dangerous chemicals.

"All the schools I went to as a student were within one mile of a high-risk facility. So we have lots of schools like that here in this valley," said Maya Nye with the group People Cnocerned About Chemical Safety.

And Kanawha County Schools say the district is prepared to handle any kind of disaster that comes its way. However, the water crisis was a kind of incident the schools had never even thought to plan for, Even still, the basic plans to coordinating its response all came together to keep kids safe.

"There's a lot of different situations that can arise, and we've had our fair share of them around here certainly. Each one of those, though, helps us as we get together, we always have an after the event team meeting so we can talk about what went right, what went wrong, and we also are with the emergency responders at that meeting so we've got an idea of what we can do better," said Beverly Jarrett, Kanawha Coutny Schools safety & training director.

Jarrett actually worked in the chemical valley for years, helping her to now advise the schools on the best practices during a disaster. In many cases, a "shelter in place" is ordered. Schools are equipped to safeguard students and staff *inside the school during a chemical disaster and that's really nothing new. While the recent disasters are fresh on our minds, Kanawha County Schools have actually had emergency kits in every school building district-wide for years. They include things like duct tape, a radio with extra batteries, and even a first aid kit.

While it's great to be ready should another crisis happen, activist Maya Nye says big corporations handling dangerous chemicals should take a leadership role in doing everything possible to prevent problems in the first place.

"One of the biggest things we ask is that chemical facilities take a look at 'What are the alternatives out there? Can I reduce my risk at my facility not only for my workers, but also for the schools that are in close proximity?'" said Nye.

And Kanawha County Schools regularly do drills to practice emergency reponse. The district will also be reviewing its entire disaster plan this summer to see if any changes are needed.





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