Chlorine Bleach Plants Needlessly Endanger 63 Million Americans

by Rick Hind

February 4, 2016

A new report from Greenpeace USA details how chlorine bleach processing plants threaten our communities — putting 63.8 million people across the country at risk.

Greenpeace inspection of the Kuehne plant in Newark, N.J., May 13, 2010.

© Robert Meyers/Greenpeace

Chlorine bleach plants across the country put millions of Americans in danger of a chlorine gas release, a substance so toxic it has been used as a chemical weapon. Greenpeace’s new report on bleach manufacturing facilities examines the problems with using chlorine gas and puts forward safer alternatives already in use.

There are currently 86 commercial bleach plants in the United States that use huge quantities of chlorine gas in their operations. These facilities endanger more than 63 million people living in “vulnerability zones” near the facilities, with the potential to release deadly amounts of chlorine gas in a worst-case scenario. Bleach manufacturers use gaseous chlorine to produce bleach and also repackage bulk chlorine gas into smaller containers for commercial use.

These facilities frequently ship, receive, and store their chlorine gas in 90-ton rail cars that are vulnerable to accidents and acts of sabotage. These rail cars crisscross the country delivering chlorine gas to facilities, endangering the communities through which they travel.

The report lists ten bleach plants from the New York City area to Los Angeles that each put one million or more people at risk of disaster. But bleach plants can operate without such a catastrophic hazard. An increasing number of bleach facilities operate without bulk chlorine gas storage and transportation, a transition that has in some cases removed a catastrophic danger to thousands of nearby residents.

And many chlorine gas consumers — such as drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities — can switch to safer alternatives for water treatment including liquid bleach and ultraviolet light.

Our recommendations to reduce the storage, transport, and use of chlorine gas:

  • Bleach manufacturing facilities should prioritize a transition from chlorine gas to liquid bleach and require sourcing from suppliers that produce chlorine from an on-site, as-needed basis to eliminate storage and transport of bulk chlorine gas. In addition, bleach facilities that transition from chlorine gas to liquid bleach should make public the method of production of their bleach suppliers.
  • Industrial chlorine consumers should adopt alternatives to gaseous chlorine. For example, drinking water and wastewater treatment plants could generate their chlorine bleach on-site or purchase from bleach plants that do not transport or store bulk quantities of chlorine gas. Wastewater plants can also switch to ultraviolet (UV) light for disinfection.
  • Local governments and communities should demand that bleach plants and other local facilities that pose catastrophic hazards convert to safer available alternatives such as ultraviolet (UV) light at municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Learn more and find out if your community is threatened by a chlorine gas release in the new report “Chlorine Bleach Plants Needlessly Endanger Millions.”

Rick Hind

By Rick Hind

Rick is the legislative director at Greenpeace USA. Since he joined the organization in 1991, he is a go-to source for journalists covering toxics and chemical security issues. He has been quoted in a wide range of national publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, NPR, FOX, and many more.

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