Today, Greenpeace announced that our citizens’ inspection of the Kuehne Chemical plant near New York City in South Kearny, NJ showed that the two million pounds of Chlorine gas on site puts up to 12 million people in the New York area at risk. This “worst case scenario,” defined by their Risk Management Plan submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, would occur from the release of just one full rail car of chlorine gas. There could be enough chlorine gas on site at the Kuehne facility to fill 11 rail cars and the Department of Homeland Security has said that a terrorist attack would likely be worse than a worst-case scenario.
Imagine a low-lying cloud of lethal chlorine gas spreading through New York City or your home town, stretching 15 miles past your childhood playground, your place of worship, or your friends’ homes. Imagine that you witness the same horror seen by American troops when Hitler used chlorine gas as a weapon: people gasping for air and grasping their throats as fumes melted their lungs and slowly suffocate them. Imagine that your Senator could have done something to prevent this.
Last November the House of Representatives passed a bill that November that would require high-risk chemical facilities to convert to safer chemicals if feasible. Soon afterward Senator Lautenberg pledged to introduce similar legislation in the Senate. We expect that legislation to come out soon and we need the full Senate to take action this summer. If the U.S. Senate fails to act this year, you could be one in three Americans who will remain at risk.
The terrorist attacks on September 11 shocked us all and set into motion the tightening of our security systems. While we’ve added air puffing machines to our airports, metal detectors, x-ray machines, and requirements to take off our shoes, our elected officials have all but ignored the fact that the nation’s dangerous chemical facilities remain unsecured. There are so many of these facilities, that the Department of Homeland Security can only inspect less than 5% of these plants they themselves have identified as high-risk.
This Risk is Unnecessary
This risk need not exist. This facility, as well as other high-risk facilities around the country, could convert to a safer process. One example is Clorox, the most recognizable name in chlorine products, which has pledged to convert all of its plants over the next few years. Dow Chemical is even converting a facility using “just in time” technology that eliminates large storage of chlorine on site. But even with the 500 or more plants that have converted over the last decade, over 110 million Americans still live within the vulnerability zone of a catastrophic chemical disaster; one-third of our population.
Almost nine years after the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history, our most vulnerable targets remain at risk. Simple, inexpensive, and common sense changes, like substituting or reducing the amount of lethal gases stored on-site, would protect millions of people from harm. As Senator Lieberman said during a hearing earlier this year, safer technologies are “the only fool proof way to defeat a terrorist determined to strike a chemical facility.” In that same hearing Senator Voinovich of Ohio asked, “What’s the need… is there something that’s going to happen that’s catastrophic?” Well, Senator, you sound like your peers who asked me the same questions when lifting the off-shore oil ban.
We need our Senators to support Senator Lautenberg’s bill and stand up to industry lobbyists, take action by sending a message to you Senator.