Secretary Ridge Misleads Public about Hazardous Rail Shipments for Political Cover
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge stated on October 30 that trains carrying hazardous chemicals were being re-routed around Washington, D.C. in response to the most recent videotape from Osama bin Laden. However, Greenpeace has learned that such shipments have in fact been secretly re-routed since March 11, 2004. The change was instituted after the terrorist attacks on commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, but may continue only through Inauguration Day 2005.
"Secretary Ridge's claim yesterday is a politically self-serving lie," said Rick Hind of Greenpeace. "CSX has been re-routing these shipments for seven months and there was no legitimate security reason for keeping such a positive development a secret. In fact, we should want to make public that attacks on these trains would be pointless.
"Apparently Ridge is using the bin Laden tape as convenient cover for the fact that the Bush administration opposes re-routing hazardous rail shipments," continued Hind. "If the administration were truly serious about removing the threat posed by these trains, it should re-route them permanently."
The vulnerability of hazardous rail cargo to attack is one of the most serious threats to homeland security. Testifying before the D.C. City Council (October 6, 2003 and January 23, 2004), Dr. Jay Boris of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, warned that, "terrorist attacks in an urban environment can put 100,000 people or more at risk in a 15 to 30-minute time span…lethally exposed people can die at the rate of 100 per second." The impact of such an attack on Amtrak, Metrorail, VRE and MARC passenger trains, which share or run parallel to the CSX freight train tracks, would be catastrophic.
Greenpeace has called on the Bush administration, the U.S. Congress, the Transportation Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and other government agencies to institute a permanent ban on hazardous chemical shipments through cities. Greenpeace is also working with a bipartisan coalition of city council members to pass legislation before the District of Columbia City Council that would prohibit the transport of such shipments through Washington, D.C.
In the long-term, the risks of transporting hazardous chemicals can be eliminated entirely by switching to safer chemicals and processes. For example, Washington, D.C.'s Blue Plains sewage treatment plant used chlorine, a highly volatile and toxic chemical, prior to September 11, 2001. The plant had seven rail cars of chlorine stored on site. Within eight weeks after the World Trade Center attacks, the plant converted from chlorine to safer chemical substitutes and the facility no longer poses a threat to D.C. residents.