A new movie out in theaters on February 26, The Crazies, is a story of a small town of innocent people who are mysteriously infected with a fictitious bio-warfare agent Trixie. Unfortunately, for these people, the infection makes them go crazy and the ensuing horror is enough to make you jump out of your seat. Luckily, for us, this is only a movie and the story is pure fiction.
But, in every good piece of fiction, there's usually a bit of truth that makes the story really sink in for us. Real toxic dangers exist in our every day life. In addition to entertaining, the movie provides us with an important wake up call. One issue that we should all be reminded of is the disastrous risks posed by poison gases used in chemical plants. Some of them started out as chemical warfare agents.
110 Million At Risk
Did you know that the Department of Homeland Security has identified over 6,000 "high-risk" chemical plants in the United States? An accident or attack at just 300 of them would put 110 million Americans at risk. That's not only crazy, but also down right terrifying.
The risk of greatest concern is a massive poison gas release by accident or terrorism that could far surpass the casualties of 9/11. The bio-warfare agent Trixie is science fiction, but poison gases, such as chlorine, are very real. And, it doesn't take a great horror genre writer to think of what would happen if something went wrong at a chemical plant holding a dangerous poison gas. In 1984, the Bhopal disaster at Union Carbide's pesticide plant in India killed 20,000 people.
When high concentrations of a poison gas such as chlorine comes in contact with moist human flesh by breathing it in, it can result in pulmonary edema, causing the victim to drown in their own lung fluids. Chlorine was the first lethal gas used in World War I. An estimated 5,000 French soldiers were killed or injured in 1915 in the first attack using chlorine gas.
What's really crazy is that the Homeland Security Council estimated that an attack on a chemical facility would kill 17,500 people, seriously injure 10,000 more people, and send an additional 100,000 people to the hospital.
And, the U.S. Naval research Lab estimates that large releases of an industrial poison gas like chlorine in an U.S. city could result in 100,000 casualties in the first 30 minutes, "people can die at the rate of 100 per second."
Safer Alternatives DO Exist
But, a happy ending is really possible! Since 9/11 more than 200 chemical facilities have converted to safer chemical processes, eliminating poison gas risks to more than 30 million Americans. That's the good news. The bad news is that not all plants have adopted safer technologies - and they won't until laws are passed that require them to. Safer alternatives don't cost the plant much and may even save them money, will create jobs, and are a longer-term investment in communities.
Legislation Would Save Lives
November 2009 the House of Representatives approved the "Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009," (H.R. 2868) by a vote of 230 to 193. This is the first time either house of Congress has approved comprehensive chemical security legislation.
The real Crazies are the army of chemical industry lobbyists who don't want to prevent these disasters and instead are trying to block this legislation. Greenpeace identified 169 industry lobbyists assigned to keep Congress from passing a strong chemical security law.
Now it's up to the Senate, they will take up chemical security legislation. Greenpeace hopes they will recognize the urgency of this issue and embrace common sense solutions that eliminate these risks once and for all.
Many of the characters in The Crazies (spoiler alert) couldn’t escape the infectious Trixie contamination. But, if Congress acts now, there will be hope for the rest of us. Safer alternatives exist for poison gases used at chemical plants that would save lives. The risks are preventable.
Take action and tell your Senators to prevent a real horror. Congress must pass strong chemical security legislation now, before the weak temporary law expires.