N.J. Chemical Plant "Worst-Case Scenario" Might Put Millions At Risk

A report released by the New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC) has identified 110 facilities in 19 New Jersey counties that could potentially cause "catastrophic safety and health risks to workers or the public in the event of a worst-case chemical release."

The report the first of its kind to use data on potentially hazardous facilities in New Jersey from state and federal data sources details how a toxic release prompted by an accident or terrorist attack could cause serious harm not only to plant employees but also to up to 12 million people.

The impacted area potentially could extend into Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn. In southern New Jersey, a chemical accident potentially could generate a cloud of chlorine gas covering 25 miles, reaching into downtown Philadelphia, the report says.

"There has always been a degree of risk associated with living near or around a chemical-handling facility, but in this post 9/11 world, we must recognize the need to safeguard ourselves against those who might attempt to use these facilities as weapons," WEC Executive Director Rick Engler said.

Report Raises 'Public Fear and Concern'

Elvin Montero, director of communication for the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, told Occupational Hazards.com that the information released is not new and that he doesn't approve of the way it has been published.

"I question if this report is putting safety and security first," he said. "This information has been made public since before 9/11, and it was done voluntarily by industry. This report unnecessarily raises public fear and concern."

Montero says much has to happen for the "worst-case" scenario to occur, as the "industry has and continues to work cooperatively" with federal regulators and others and is satisfied with security measures it has taken.

The group behind the study has asked New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine to conduct an assessment of chemical industry weaknesses, implement strict physical security standards and impose mandatory requirements in lieu of voluntary guidelines.

Engler admits there always could be risks, but they can be "minimized by adopting a few common-sense measures."

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