A chemical plant near Boston exploded last night. Luckily, nobody died or was seriously injured, but many fires were still burning hours after the explosion, and at least twenty nearby homes were damaged beyond repair. Closer to home, employees at the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant in East Tennessee noticed early yesterday morning that they might have a leak of radioactive cooling water inside the plant. As a protective measure, the Tennessee Valley Authority declared the possible leak an “unusual event,” the least severe federal classification for nuclear power plant problems. Concerned with the report, the superintendent of nearby Meigs Counry Schools sent his pupils home for the day. In doing so, he implemented the first nuclear-related evacuation since the 1979 accident at Three-Mile Island.
Although it was ultimately determined that this “unusual event” at the nuclear power plant was really just a miscalculation, news of the evacuation has made it everywhere from Tennessee to Australia to South Africa. Watts Bar President Mike Skaggs states in several of those news stories that there was never a danger posed to workers or community members and that the school evacuation was unnecessary. But the presence of both the school evacuation report and the Boston chemical plant explosion story in papers across the globe tells a different truth than Mr. Skaggs did: whenever you are working, learning, or living close to industries with high levels of chemical and radioactive materials, you are in a potential danger zone, and reporters all over the world are aware of this.
There are many federal regulations in place to minimize the risks associated with working and living in and near such industries, but they are not always adhered to. The most hazardous aspects of chemical and nuclear plants are the invisible effects they have inside our bodies. Invisible, that is, until cancers and other irreversible conditions take over our systems.
If you work in an industry with high levels of chemicals and/or radiation, your employer is responsible for protecting you from the associated workplace hazards. It is up to you to make sure he or she does not allow an “unusual event” to become a deadly one. If you believe that you have workplace-related health problems, do not hesitate to get the health care and legal representation you deserve.