7061 East Pleasant Valley Road, Independence, Ohio 44131 • (216) 241-2630 / Fax: (216) 241-6516

News and Issues
User Info

New rules for industry don't require switch to safer chemicals

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Beverley Lumpkin on April 24.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New federal regulations for chemical facilities neither require nor encourage companies to switch from potentially dangerous chemicals to less hazardous substitutes, and that has some lawmakers and activists worried.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and three Democratic colleagues expressed “deep concern” Monday about the reported thefts and attempted thefts of chlorine gas from California water treatment plants.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff they said the incidents underscored the need to switch to safer liquid chlorine or other methods for water treatment.

Chlorine gas can be fatal, and it has been used as a weapon in a series of chemical bomb attacks in recent months in Iraq.

The new rules released earlier this month for the first time give the government the authority to regulate high-risk plants to ensure they are secured from either accident or attack. Regulators are empowered to impose civil penalties up to $25,000 a day, and even to shut down chemical facilities that fail to comply with the rules.

Chertoff has said he doesn’t want to micromanage industry from Washington. “We want to set down standards and requirements but we do not want to necessarily prescribe the exact way in which a plant is going to meet those standards,” he said. “We want to unleash the ingenuity of the private sector to figure out what is the best way to skin this cat, just as long as the cat gets skinned.”

That view was echoed by the American Chemistry Council’s spokesman, Scott Jensen, who said industry objects to having the government the tell plants when and where they should convert. He added that forcing alternatives could be cumbersome, expensive, and lead to unintended consequences.

Activists offer the story of the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant in Washington, D.C., as an example of a change to a safer alternative that was accomplished quickly and without excessive additional cost.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, plant manager Mike Marcotte could not sleep at night because of the potential hazard posed by several rail cars loaded with chlorine gas sitting at his facility. “They were extremely attractive targets,” he said in an interview. An attack on the tanks could have released a toxic cloud endangering nearly 2 million people.

Marcotte decided he needed to move quickly. Having already made plans to replace chlorine gas with liquid bleach within the next few years, he rapidly accelerated those plans. Within 90 days, the conversion was complete.

Construction costs were about $500,000 and subsequent upgrades cost about $15 million. The safer liquid bleach added about 25 cents to the average customer’s monthly bill. But it was no longer necessary to have police cars patrolling around the clock, so security costs dropped substantially.

It’s not just plants that make chemicals that are potentially hazardous; there are also facilities that use chemicals to produce other products — for example, petroleum refineries may use hydrogen fluoride; power plants may use anhydrous ammonia, and water treatment plants use chlorine and sulfur dioxide gas. All are toxic if inhaled, and they are used in 55 percent of the industrial processes that threaten communities nationwide, according to the environmental group Greenpeace.

There are widely available safer alternatives for those gases.

The liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, in a 2006 study, said more than 284 facilities in 47 states have converted to safer alternatives since 1999. As a result, the Center said, at least 30 million people no longer live under the threat of a major toxic gas cloud. Some examples:

• Nottingham Water Treatment Plant, Cleveland, Ohio, now treats drinking water with bleach instead of chlorine gas.

• Wyandotte Wastewater Treatment Facility, near Detroit, switched from chlorine gas to ultraviolet light.

• DuPont Soy Polymers, Louisville, Ky., changed from using anhydrous sulfur dioxide to the safer sodium bisulfite.

Since 1999, the Center says, 25 water utilities that formerly received shipments of chlorine gas by rail have switched to safer and more secure options, such as liquid bleach or ultraviolet light. But 37 drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities still receive chlorine gas by rail, leaving 25 million Americans living in harm’s way either nearby or in towns along the rail route.

Cleveland and Indianapolis both converted their water utilities from chlorine gas, but they are still at risk from railcars headed to other cities such as Minneapolis and Nashville that have not converted.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Like us on Facebook at

Sign up for BLET News Flash Alerts

© 1997-2021 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen


Decertification Helpline
(216) 694-0240

National Negotiations

Sign up for BLET
News Flash Alerts


Intermodal down 8.3% as AAR reports rail traffic for the week ending September 18, 2021
Containers piling up at U.S. rail yards add to port strains
More rail tank cars meet DOT-117 safety standards in 2020
One hour between Seattle and Portland? It’s possible
Fund manager backs CN’s board, questions TCI’s motives
Federal court gives Union Pacific green light to cut its services on three busy Chicago commuter rail lines
Union Pacific to announce Q3 2021 results on October 21
SEPTA: “Reimagining regional rail” post pandemic
Amtrak previews plans for infrastructure bill funding at RPA conference
Q&A: RRB deemed service month credits
Get the latest labor news from the Teamsters

More Headlines