President Bush Guilty of Hypocrisy on Chemical Security

Feature story - November 8, 2004
Tight security measures go into place during special events in Washington. These measures often include a temporary prohibition on the transport of hazardous chemicals through Capitol Hill. Why are these chemical shipments diverted only during 'VIP' events, while D.C. residents remain at risk on a daily basis?

Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal recently featured a front-page exposé of the vulnerability of hazardous chemical shipments traveling on the nation's rail system.

The dangers of chemical facilities

Chemical facilities are found all over the United States. These facilities are required to submit worst-case scenarios to the Environmental Protection Agency, outlining potential consequences of an attack or accident. There are 112 facilities in the United States that could threaten a million or more people in the event of an attack or accident. According to the Brookings Institute, U.S. chemical plants represent the third highest risk of fatalities from possible terrorist attacks.

Maybe you do not live near one of these facilities. Think you are safe? Think again. Every day, freight trains carry tons of extremely toxic chemicals through our nation's most populated cities.

So how do we protect ourselves?

The only true safeguard against an attack or accident, is to eliminate these toxic chemicals by switching to safer alternatives. That is what the Senate Environment Committee had in mind when they unanimously adopted Senator Corzine's (D-NJ) chemical security bill (S. 157) in July 2002. However, in October 2003, the same committee replaced Corzine's bill with S. 994, which simply grandfathers the chemical industry's voluntary do-nothing programs.

Until the chemical industry switches to safer alternatives, Greenpeace is calling on the federal government to initiate preventive measures at chemical facilities and divert dangerous shipments away from our metropolitan areas. The Washington, D.C. City Council is now considering such a bill (B15-0525) to restrict shipments of hazardous materials through the capital. If this legislation is passed, it will serve as a model for the rest of the country.

A senior scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory recently warned the D.C. City Council that an attack could put more than 100,000 people at risk within 15 to 30 minutes causing "exposed people to die at the rate of 100 per second."

The DOT sponsored a National Risk Assessment for Selected Hazardous Materials Transportation. In it, the top 150 hazardous materials transported by rail are listed as well as the admission that "...the failure to identify and evaluate opportunities to reduce the risks from these types of relatively rare accidents could ultimately lead to thousands of fatalities, injuries and evacuations."