Plants producing dangerous toxic chemicals in flood prone metro areas

New York Times found similar plants all 50 states

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Toxic chemicals and flooding are a potentially dangerous combination for both human health and the environment.

A recent New York Times investigation found there are 2,500 toxic chemical-producing plants in flood-prone areas nationwide, including in the Metro.

The investigation found many plants producing toxic chemicals are near waterways like rivers or coastal areas to deliver goods or use the water for cooling in the manufacturing or treatment process.

Those areas are more prone to flooding.

The investigation also noted there have been significant uncontrolled toxic chemical releases in the environment due to flooding in Texas, Florida and Alabama.

The Blue River in the northeast part of Kansas City was one of many areas in the metro hit with flooding after heavy rains last summer.

The flooding happened in an area where the Federal Environmental Protection Agency or EPA monitors plants producing toxic chemicals.

One of those plants is AZZ Galvanizing where steel is treated with zinc so it won't rust for outdoor uses like power poles.

EPA records show the agency monitors AZZ for toxic chemicals, which include ammonia, lead, sulfuric acid and zinc compounds.

A FEMA map shows AZZ is located in a high-risk flooding area which is shaded in light blue on the map by plugging in the address of the plant — 7700 East 12th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64126.

AZZ Spokeswoman Tara Mackey promised the 41 Action News Investigators an interview with a company executive on the Kansas City plant for Thursday. But that interview was not provided. 

In the metro, the EPA monitors 125 facilities producing toxic waste with what's called the toxics release inventory or TRI.

As part of that program, those facilities must report to the EPA on the use and disposal of toxic chemicals each year.

Of the 125 facilities in the metro, some of them are in flood-prone areas, others aren't.

Some examples include a cluster of roughly a dozen businesses in the North Kansas City area which is flood prone.

But FEMA records show that same area, although flood-prone, is less likely to flood due to levees.

The most recent federal records show in 2016, the top two producers of toxic waste released into the metro environment are both KCP&L power plants.

The La Cygne, Kansas plant in Linn County was the number one producer of toxic wastes released in the Metro at more than 2.1 million pounds.

The EPA is monitoring 19 different toxic chemicals produced by that plant.

However, the plant is in a low flood risk area.

But KCP&L's Iatan plant in Platte County on the Missouri River is in a high-risk flood area.

And the plant released the second highest amount of toxic chemicals in the Metro in 2016 at more than 1.4 million pounds.

The EPA is monitoring 15 different toxic chemicals produced by the Iatan plant.

After the 41 Action News Investigators asked KCP&L about their plants, a company spokesman released this statement.

“KCP&L has advanced warning systems in place in the case of floods. Therefore, we are able to secure our facilities, including chemicals, prior to flooding. In 2011, we were successful in protecting our Iatan facility, chemicals and employees, which is surrounded by a 500-year berm, levees and other precautions already in place, and were able to continue operation."

 

EPA records show overall, toxic wastes produced in the metro have trended up in the last 15 years.

There were 67 million pounds produced in 2003.

By 2015, that number had reached 115 million pounds of toxic wastes. 

But the amount of those dangerous chemicals released into the environment disposed of in some other way has decreased in that same time frame.

In 2008, there were 10.8 million pounds of toxic chemicals released or disposed of from Metro plants.

In 2016 that amount had dropped to just over 8 million pounds.

EPA records show better recycling and treatment options for toxic chemicals as reasons for that reduction.

But the New York Times investigation notes flooding can sabotage any plant's best efforts to handle dangerous toxic wastes.

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