Following a citizen inspection conducted earlier this week by Greenpeace, the organization has issued a ‘failed inspection’ report to Dow Chemical Company for failing to fully secure its Texas Operations facility in Freeport, TX against terrorists or catastrophic accidents. A copy of the inspection report was delivered in person at the local headquarters today and also submitted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Freeport facility puts130,000 people at risk.
“We know Dow can eliminate these risks by switching to safer processes, they just choose not to,” said Greenpeace policy analyst John Deans. “It’s pretty shocking that disaster prevention is still voluntary in a post 9/11 world, particularly in light of the magnitude of the risk. As we have seen in the petrochemical industry, self regulation is a hazardous proposition.”
In 2008, Dow Chemical partnered with K2Pure Solutions to begin converting its Pittsburgh, CA plant to a safer process that eliminates the bulk storage of chlorine. In 2009, Dow provided Greenpeace legislative language showing that Dow could support a policy requiring safer chemical processes. Now, however, Dow is leading the industry trade groups lobbying against policies that would require safer chemical processes at plants and protect nearby communities.
Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to inspect ‘high risk’ chemical plants, they will only inspect 3 percent of the 5,333 “high risk” plants by the end of 2010. Under a temporary law, the DHS also has no authority to require the use of safer chemical processes that would eliminate catastrophic poison gas risks at a chemical facility.
Nearly nine years after the attacks of 9/11, the nation’s chemical plants remain vulnerable to terrorist attack. Chemical plant risk zones frequently extend up to 20 miles downwind into densely populated areas due to the bulk storage or use of poison gases such as chlorine. More than 100 million Americans are put at risk by just 300 of the nation’s “high risk” chemical plants. In 2004, the Homeland Security Council estimated that an attack on a chemical facility would kill 17,500 people, seriously injure 10,000, and send an additional 100,000 people to the hospital.
Since 1999, more than 500 plants have switched to safer and more secure chemicals or processes nationwide, eliminating risks to 40 million Americans. At least 6 facilities in Texas use safer processes eliminating risks to over 70 thousand people.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill (HR 2868) on Nov. 6, 2009 that would require the highest risk plants to convert to safer processes where commercially feasible. This bill is now under consideration by the Senate.
“If the chemical industry hasn’t eliminated these risks by now, there is no reason to believe that it ever will,” said Deans. “Sadly, we all know too well that security cameras and fences are an insufficient deterrent to a terrorist, and we have seen that industrial accidents can have fatal consequences.”
Terrorism experts from agencies such as DHS, the EPA, and the Government Accountability Office have documented the nation’s vulnerability to toxic releases at U.S. chemical plants and the need to require safer processes. An accident could result in a deadly release similar to that experienced in Bhopal, India in 1984, when a gas leak at a pesticide plant killed 8,000 within three days.
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