Report: Highest Hazard U.S. Chemical Facilities Can Be Converted to Protect Millions from Possible Terrorist Attack

Nov. 20, 2008
A new report from the Center for American Progress identifies safer and more secure alternatives for the nation’s 101 most dangerous chemical facilities.

More than 80 million Americans live within range of a worst-case toxic gas cloud from at least one of the nation’s 101 most dangerous chemical facilities, which security experts say are potential terrorist targets. Millions more are at risk along delivery routes – more than 90 percent of these facilities ship or receive their highest-hazard chemical in vulnerable railcars or trucks.

This threat substantially can be reduced by converting facilities to safer and more secure chemicals or processes, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress, “Chemical Security 101: What You Don’t Have Can’t Leak or be Blown Up by Terrorists.” Unfortunately, temporary chemical security standards enacted 2 years ago (and set to expire in 2009) focus almost entirely on physical security measures, such as adding gates and guards.

“There is tremendous untapped potential to protect American communities from chemical terrorism by investing in safer and more secure technologies,” said Paul Orum, who prepared the report as a consultant to the Center for American Progress. “Since gates and guards may fail, the only certain way to protect communities is to remove the danger with available alternatives.”

The report specifically identifies readily available alternatives for most of the 101 most dangerous chemical facilities, each of which threatens nearly 1 million or more people. Adopting these alternatives, which are already used by other similar facilities, would eliminate or substantially reduce the danger to millions of Americans. In particular:

  • Thirty bleach plants could remove danger to some 50 million Americans by generating chlorine on-site without rail shipment and bulk storage. These plants are found in Phoenix; Glendale, Ariz.; Los Angeles; Ontario, Calif.; Sante Fe Springs, Calif. (2 locations); Jacksonville; Miami (2 locations); Forest Park, Ga.; Denver; Lemont, Ill.; Chicago; Willow Springs, Ill.; Dupo, Ill.; Beech Grove, Ind.; Riverview, Mich.; St. Paul, Minn.; Merrimack, N.H.; South Kearny, N.J.; Henderson, Nev.; Warwick, N.Y.; Barberton, Ohio; Cincinnati; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Houston (3 locations); and Tacoma, Wash.
  • Fifteen water utilities could remove danger to 17 million people by converting from chlorine gas (and sometimes sulfur dioxide gas) to alternatives that include liquid bleach or ultraviolet light. These utilities are found in Granada Hills, Calif.; Hialeah, Fla.; Miami; Ft. Lauderdale; Tampa, Fla.; Detroit; Maplewood, Minn.; Nashville; Wylie, Texas; Sunnyvale, Texas; Dallas; Euless, Texas; Grand Prairie, Texas; Houston; and Salt Lake City.
  • Eight petroleum refineries could remove danger to 11 million Americans by substituting toxic hydrofluoric acid, used in refining crude oil, with sulfuric acid or emerging solid acid catalysts. These refineries are found in Channahon, Ill.; Lemont, Ill.; Chalmette, La.; Meraux, La; St. Paul Park, Minn.; Paulsboro, N.J.; Trainer, Pa.; and Philadelphia.
  • A variety of safer, more secure alternatives are available to 21 facilities that receive chemicals by rail or truck for use in making such diverse products as oil additives, water treatment chemicals, and materials for bulletproof vests. These facilities are found in Los Angeles; Pittsburg, Calif.; Torrance, Calif.; Sauget, Ill. (2 locations); Lyons, Ill.; Elwood, Ill.; East Chicago, Ind.; Hammond, Ind.; Baltimore; Detroit; St. Louis; Deepwater, N.J.; Linden, N.J.; Cincinnati; West Carrollton, Ohio; Memphis; Baytown, Texas; Pasadena, Texas; Houston; and LaPorte, Texas.

In addition to the top 101, the report also identifies 202 additional high-hazard facilities that could make similar changes. Each of these facilities has some 100,000 or more people living within range of a worst-case toxic gas release (commonly called a “vulnerability zone”). Together, these 303 facilities are found in 41 states and endanger a total of 110 million people.

“Millions of people remain unnecessarily vulnerable to toxic terrorism,” said Reece Rushing, director of regulatory and information policy at the Center for American Progress. “This report shows that substantial safety and security improvements are possible and affordable.”

Security experts, the Department of Homeland Security, and the chemical industry itself all recognize that chemical facilities are vulnerable to terrorism, Rushing added. “But so far, we have been unwilling to address this threat in a serious way. We must move beyond our current focus on site security. Site security, even if effective, does nothing to protect the millions of Americans who live along chemical delivery routes. Instead, where we can, we should remove high-hazard chemicals from our communities, railways, and roads. This report shows the way forward.”

The report can be found in its entirety.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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