Chemical security needed in Freeport, Texas

by Guest Blogger

September 13, 2010

Greenpeace image: Dow inspection in Houston, TX

Sitting here in Freeport, TX, looking out over the beach, it’s easy for me to squint my eyes and focus only on the birds and sparkling Gulf waters.  But if I open my eyes all the way I see oil and natural gas rigs spread across the horizon in the Gulf of Mexico; a constant flow of barges transporting dangerous fuels and chemicals to and from the port; and residents and visitors surfing and fishing in the shadows of Dow’s multiple chemical plants in Freeport.

Throughout the past week I’ve been here with The Greenpeace Toxics Safety Team, inspecting the security of Dow’s chemical facility in Freeport.  We’ve been demonstrating to Dow and to the world that Dow Chemical’s Texas Operations are easily accessible by anyone: we’ve gotten within throwing-distance of pipes, tanks, and train cars bearing dangerous chemicals such as chlorine and phosgene.

What does this mean? It means that these chemicals are easy targets for deliberate attacks. Likewise, an accident would have catastrophic results.  Because of the plants’ proximity to neighborhoods, schools, highways, libraries, stores, beaches, and everything else that makes up life here in Freeport, a chemical disaster could be fatal for thousands and thousands of people.

The really terrifying thing is that this situation is not endemic to Freeport; one out of every three Americans live and work within a chemical risk zone due to the presence of plants such as these in Freeport.

As our team on the ground has been investigating access points to the plants, walking within yards of train cars bearing toxic chemical warnings and ‘skull-and-crossbones’ motifs, and doing flyovers above the plants in a helicopter — all of this while followed by a videographer, photographer, and CNN news crew — a part of me has been hoping that our attempts at approaching the plants would be foiled by security measures.  The fact that no one at Dow did much more than raise an eyebrow made me wonder how the chemical company would cope with potential ill-intentioned and covert attacks.

At one location, our investigators approached two Dow train cars labeled “Inhalation Hazard: Ethylene Oxide” that were parked within 50 feet of a residential house.  A dog tied up outside the house watched our investigations warily, not realizing the devastating effects that an accidental leak or deliberate attack on those very train cars could have on everyone and everything in the vicinity.

It’s been an interesting week, and has opened my eyes to the fact that there isn’t enough security in the world to justify the use of these hazardous chemicals.  The only truly safe option is to invest in safer processes that don’t present the higher level of risk that current processes do.  This has been proven to be possible at other chemical plants, including some of Dow’s.  If the company would invest the same millions of dollars they invest on PR (to refute environmental and health-related arguments) on researching and developing these safer processes, millions of people around the country would be safer as well.

Take action here!

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.