Chlorine gas update

Last year (Nov 6, 2009), the House approved legislation to reduce the risks of terrorist attacks on chemical plants and water treatment facilities. The Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009, which passed without a single Republican vote, includes measures a NY Times editorial called “reasonable, vital and long overdue” that were long sought by environmental groups and organized labor. Public health, however, has been somewhat silent despite the fact that public health investigations and DHS reviews suggest that an accidental release or a deliberate attack on a chemical plant — or the rail lines used to transport the majority of these hazardous materials — near a population center would likely create a toxic cloud resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties.

This bill – HR 2868 – is apparently a compromise that focused only on the plants posing the highest risk. According to the NY Times, it mandates that industry use safer chemicals or processes when DHS and the EPA determine that they are feaisble and cost effective. It does allow for states to pass stricter regulations.

While the House was considering the issue, the Clorox Company announced that it was choosing to convert all of its factories that use chlorine gas to safer chemical processes. The switch should reduce the threat to Americans who live near the rail lines used to transport the chlorine to plants — another point of high vulnerability to terrorist attack or accident.

OMB Watch posted a detailed review of the legislation.

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