Public Safety Should Not Be Optional

July 6, 2010

"The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) today failed to agree on a chemical security bill (S. 2145) that will protect American communities from preventable disasters. Among the bill’s most serious failures is the refusal to require the elimination of unnecessary risks with proven safer and cost-effective technologies. Guards, guns and gates alone will not protect millions of Americans currently at risk.

"Once security is penetrated there is no way to prevent a disaster unless the plant has already been converted to safer chemicals or technologies.  'On April 24th The New York Times reported, 'At least 225 industrial plants in this country have switched to using less dangerous chemicals since the 2001 terrorist attacks, lowering the risk that people nearby would be injured or killed by toxic plumes…' Much more needs to be done. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has identified 3,400 chemical facilities in the U.S., each of which put more than 1,000 people at risk.

"On Wednesday, June 14th, the HSGAC voted against a compromise offered by Senator Lieberman (D-CT) that would have at least made 360 of the highest risk chemical plants determine which safer cost-effective chemicals or technologies are available to them. Without a provision to eliminate preventable risks, proven solutions will remain optional as they are under current law.

"By contrast, the fourteen weakening amendments and loopholes filed by Senator Voinovich (R-OH) on behalf of the chemical industry shamelessly put the agenda of narrow business interests ahead of the safety of the American people.  The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory estimates that 100,000 people could be killed or injured in the first 30 minutes following an attack. The day after such an attack, survivors will ask why their government failed to take action that could have prevented such a tragedy.  

"Other major deficiencies in S. 2145 include the:

- The failure to provide a significant role for the federal agency with 35 years of  experience enforcing laws at chemical plants, the Environmental Protection Agency

- The failure to involve plant workers in identifying vulnerabilities and developing security plans.  

"According to the EPA, chlorine and ammonia gas account for more than 50 percent of the processes that threaten communities nationwide. Widely available alternatives are in use but none are required:

*** Over 200 water treatment facilities (including Washington, D.C.) have already converted to safer alternatives such as ultraviolet light since 1999 eliminating the use of chlorine gas. Still more than 100 water treatment plants put over 100,000 people at risk.

*** At least 36 electric power plants no longer rely on huge volumes of ammonia gas since 1999.  Still 166 power plants each put an average of 21,500 people at risk with ammonia gas."

Contact: Jane Kochersperger, (202) 319-2493; (202) 415-5477 cell

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