Coalition Calls for Reduction of Chemical Hazards

The Safe Hometowns Initiative, a coalition of citizen groups, announced yesterday that six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, millions of Americans remain at risk from possible terrorist attacks on chemical storage facilities. The coalition called for community efforts and federal policy changes to reduce chemical hazards by requiring companies to consider “inherently safer” technologies and materials, which could reduce – and in many cases eliminate – the possibility of a significant chemical release. They also released two supporting reports: The Safe Hometowns Guide, a citizens’ guide to reducing chemical hazards in communities, and Protecting Our Hometowns, a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group that assesses chemical hazards state by state and makes the case for federal policy changes. The Safe Hometowns Guide explains how citizens can make their communities less vulnerable to a chemical attack and safer in the event of a chemical release. Among other examples, the guide cites changes in hundreds of New Jersey drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities and a Washington, DC wastewater treatment plant that all switched from toxic chlorine gas to a less hazardous alternative. The Washington plant made the move within weeks of September 11th, eliminating the possibility of a toxic chlorine cloud spreading across the nation's capital. The PIRG report cites U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents showing that a chemical release at any one of 125 facilities nationwide could put at least 1 million people at risk; some 3,000 facilities each put 10,000 people’s safety at risk. The chemicals included in the assessment are hazardous substances such as ammonia and chlorine, used by a range of industries, including chemical manufacturers, water treatment facilities, and refineries. According to industry estimates, if the chlorine from even one tank car were released or blown up, the toxic gas could travel two miles in ten minutes and remain lethal as far away as 20 miles. According to the PIRG report every state except Vermont has facilities with over 100,000 lbs. of hazardous materials that could affect residential areas. “There is widespread agreement that chemical plants are potentially attractive to terrorists. So we need to take steps to reduce hazards and improve security at plants. There is a lack of federal standards in this regard, and that's why I introduced the Chemical Security Act (S.1602),” said Senator Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ). The Safe Hometowns Initiative also called for passage of Senator Corzine’s bill. Sponsored also by Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and James Jeffords (I-VT), the act would require companies that manufacture, use, or store hazardous chemicals to make processes inherently safer by reducing chemical quantities, switching to safer chemicals, or storing chemicals under safer conditions, starting with the facilities that pose the greatest risk.
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