I haven't written about hazardous sites in a while. In 2014, I wrote about biohazards in Boston and nuclear waste in South Carolina. In both cases, there were proponents who really really wanted the facility in their town - primarily for economic reasons - and there were people who didn't want the facility there.
The latest story comes from Manhattan, Kansas, which came to my attention via Slate's Laura H. Kahn. It turns out that a facility that deals with biological samples, and which is managed by the Department of Homeland Security, is about to be relocated.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture established an animal disease research center on Plum Island, New York, in 1954, for the express purpose of studying foot-and-mouth and other deadly animal diseases. Today, in addition to foot-and-mouth, the center studies viruses like African swine fever, which, if inadvertently released, could devastate the U.S. livestock industry.
As Kahn sees it, the current facility location is ideal.
The isolated island sits off of the far eastern end of New York state’s Long Island, where the prevailing winds blow toward the ocean. If the foot-and-mouth virus—or any other airborne danger—escaped from the lab, the air currents would likely carry it beyond where it could cause harm.
Well, DHS wants to relocate the facility to Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. And Kahn is not happy.
[I]t is absolutely mind-boggling that Homeland Security has decided to move the lab, to be known as the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, to the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan, Kansas, smack in the middle of cattle country and Tornado Alley.
Read the rest of the article here. Kahn, incidentally, "works on the research staff of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security."
So if you agree that it's a really bad idea to locate a hazardous facility (such as a nuclear facility) in Tornado Alley, where do you locate it? Ideally, in a place that is not subject to natural disasters.
When Janey Osterlind tried to identify the 10 safest cities in America from natural disasters, Osterlind immediately ruled out a good chunk of the country.
From a list of American cities with populations over 100,000, those cities that had a higher likelihood of being struck by tornadoes (in Tornado Alley) were eliminated, as were those cities that were more likely to be hit by a hurricane (Gulf Coast cities and some Atlantic Coast cities). Cities that had a higher probability of experiencing a tsunami (Pacific Coast cities) or that were located near active volcanoes (concentrated in the Pacific Northwest) were also eliminated. Finally, cities in areas most likely to experience earthquakes (according to the U.S. Geological Survey) were removed from the list.
OK, so Manhattan, Kansas was not on Osterlind's list. But what about Long Island? It is subject to hurricanes.
And Kahn's working place in Princeton, New Jersey, was adversely affected by Hurricane Sandy.
So where did Osterlind recommend? Oddly enough, she put Chesapeake, Virginia at the top of the list. While Chesapeake does not have as many hurricanes as, say, New Orleans, it's not what I'd call an entirely safe place.
Many of the other sites were in a range between Pennsylvania and Minnesota - far enough inland to escape hurricanes, but not as likely to suffer tornado damage (although some of the area could be subject to tornadoes.)
Outliers: Henderson Nevada, Phoenix Arizona, and Provo Utah - all between Tornado Alley and Earthquake/Volcano Land. Of course, any worker in Henderson or Phoenix could fry to death in the summer heat.
What area is safe from a natural disaster? None.
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