Chlorine Leak Provokes Renewed Concern about Chemical Safety

The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) says it will conduct a full investigation into a three-hour chlorine gas leak at a DPC Enterprises plant in Festus, Mo, which led to the treatment of 63 workers and nearby residents at a local hospital.

A hose used to remove chlorine from freight cars ruptured at the facility, causing the leak. CSB said emergency shut-off valves at the site failed to operate properly. The process where the leak occurred is covered by both the EPA Risk Management Program and OSHA's Process Safety Management standard; both agencies are also investigating the incident.

Even though light wind and steady rain kept the gas cloud from spreading beyond the sparsely populated area near the leak, the incident provoked environmental groups to renew their call for passage of Sen. Jon Corzine's, D-NJ, pending legislation, the Chemical Security Act (S.1602). Although the House has not yet acted on companion legislation, the bill won unanimous approval in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Under Corzine's bill, chemical plants must submit plans to EPA and the primary intention of the legislation is to induce companies to substitute safer chemicals or store smaller amounts of hazardous chemicals on site. Supporters argue the bill would reduce the risks in the event of a terrorist attack as well as improve regular operational safety.

A coalition of business groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the American Petroleum Institute have joined forces to fight the bill on the Senate floor.

"We've always opposed Senator Corzine's bill because it places homeland security responsibility with an environmental agency and would deter efforts already underway to enhance security," said Chris VandenHeuvel, an ACC spokesperson.

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