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US transport security expert: "Vancouver is a prime terrorist target 365 days a year"

(The following story by Linda Solomon appeared on the Vancouver Observer website on January 2, 2010.)

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Fred Millar, a Washington, D.C.-based hazardous transportation security consultant points to a new paragraph on Transport Canada’s website containing what he believes is an alarming notice stating that hazardous chemicals can be shipped by rail into the city by night during the Olympic Games, just when hazardous chemicals are at the greatest risk of being targeted by terrorists. And after the Olympics, Millar does not think the threat of terrorism here will go away.

"I would maintain that Vancouver is a prime terrorist target 365 days a year as long as Canadian foreign policy visibly supports America’s misguided foreign applications of military power," he says.

In his view, Canada Transport seems to be trying hard to give the impression of providing security without actually doing so. He worries that "deals" may have occurred between the railroads and the Olympics security managers which will result in a watered down safety system in handling the world's dangerous chemicals. He calls the new provision “security theatre.”

“If you hold back the most dangerous cargoes during the day when the Olympic stadiums are full but if you let them go through at night and the Olympic athletes and visitors are all over the city having beer at that point, what good does that do? It’s what they call security theatre. It’s a show of security that is not as effective as you want,” Millar said.

Officials at the Canexus Chemical Plant in North Vancouver have said their facility will close during February and March for renovations. Canexus makes chlorine, one of the world's deadliest chemicals. If the closure is related to the Olympics, Canexus will not go on the record about this. But whether the Canexus closure is Olympics-related or not, Millar says three possibilities could still lead to "ultra hazardous" cargoes travelling through Vancouver during the Olympics:

1) Companies other than Canexus could ship chlorine by truck, rail or barge.
2) Other dangerous goods besides chlorine can be transported in and out of Vancouver.
3) Canexus may stop producing chemicals for several weeks, but the company may ship tanks of chlorine they have previously stockpiled.

"The industry," he says, "has apparently insisted, with acquiescence of government, on being able to ship some cargoes through the metro area (not necessarily downtown) at night, even during Olympics."

And what about the weeks from now until the chlorine facility in North Vancouver stops production? he asks.

Canexus management will not specify when the facility will close or even if it will shudown for one day during the Games, the Vancouver Observer reported in October. Management also denied the 30 to 40 day closure was deliberately timed to conincide with the largest security risk ever seen in Vancouver. But minutes from the North Shore Commnity Advisory Panel meetings showed that VANOC representatives had met with Canexus management to discuss Olympic safety concerns. And while the chlorine facility prsents one concern, transportation experts argue that the risk of shipping liquidized chlorine through densely populated urban areas by rail far outweigh the dangers of the plant itself, Megan Stewart reported.

"These cargos containing chlorine are more dangerous at night than they are in the daytime because they are toxic clouds that spread out as a cold dense killing cloud and there's about a hundred thousand shipments of chlorine and ammonia in North America. They are the top two chemicals of concern and these cargoes when they release their toxic gas clouds, if it’s as night, they don’t dissipate as readily. The reason is at night you don’t have the sun and the wind to dissipate the clouds," Millar said.

As reported previously in the Vancouver Observer, chlorine accidents happen. On a January night in 2005, a freight train with three tanker cars -- each loaded with 90 tons of chlorine -- slammed into a parked locomotive in the center of Graniteville, S.C., a town of 7,000 people about 15 miles from Augusta, Ga., Drugs.com reported. "One tank ruptured during the 2 a.m. collision, releasing between 42 tons and 60 tons of chlorine gas that seeped into a nearby textile mill, where 180 people were working the overnight shift.Eight people died at the accident scene, at least 525 people were treated in emergency rooms, and 71 people were admitted to nine hospitals in South Carolina and Georgia."

There have been a remarkably small number of deaths from chlorine-related accidents in the last decade worldwide. 9 died in Clarinas, Venezuala on September 16, 8 died in Graniteville, South Carolina, 28 died in Huai'an, China in 2005 and three died in Bexar County, Texas in June of 2004, as a result of chlorine exposure following accidents on the roads or the rails. In all of these accidents combined there were approximately 900 cases of respiratory illness reported from chlorine poisoning.

Admittedly, it's a small number when you take into account the amount of chlorine traveling roads and rails in the last decade, but it's chlorine's potential to kill that troubles Millar.

The Chlorine Institute's "Pamphlet 74" shows chlorine gas from a reuptured 90-ton railcar travelling downwind as far as 64 kilometers in 10 minutes, with a lethal concentration of low-lying gas closest to the lead. Arthur Dungan, president of the Virginia-based Chlorine Institute, an industry advocate and lobby group that includes Canexus as a member, told VO reporter Megan Stewart last summer that the scenarios from his organization err on the side of caution. Twenty-four km downwind, Pamphlet 74 predicts a chlorine gas concentration of 20 parts per million, a strength described as "the maximum airborne concentration" humans can tolerate for up to one hour "without experiencing or developing life-threatening health effects. At 20 parts per million for an hour, you're going to be seriously imparied," said Dungan. "Maybe not killed, but seriously imparied."

Canexus has a clean record of safety. In 52 years, they have never had a significant accident. But, in Millar's mind, Canexus's past record doesn't secure Vancouver's safety.

To prevent a hazardous chemical disaster on Vancouver's rails during the Olympics and after, Millar believes that Vancouver city officials should:

1. Hold official public hearings on chlorine transportation risks, in which Canexus, railroads and emergency responders would be asked to testify. Topics would include:

a. Who are Canexus customers and routes (far-flung locations in Canada and US)?

b. What are worst case scenario risks of railcar releases? More dangerous in daytime or nighttime?

c. What major cities do these routes impact in Canada and US?

d. What are alternative routes -- and modes. Are barges available?

e. How long does the unhappily-sited Canexus plant plan to continue to send its (what Millar says he would call 'waste') chlorine to the US?

f. What railcar storage sites in Canada and the US has Canexus used in the past, now and in future? Belmont WA, recently found out that Canexus plans to store 4,500 tons of chlorine in their bucolic village.

g. What special arrangements are being made temporarily for Olympics (see the excerpt below from Canada Transport website)?

2. Demand a say for Vancouver public officials in the ongoing, secret routing decisions being made by Canadian National Railroad and Canadian Pacific under the US rail security routing law (deadline for decisions by their partner Western US railroads UP and BNSF is March 31, 2010), insofar as these decisions have any risk impacts on Canadians.

"They’re protecting people during certain parts of the day, but if you’re a terrorist, you’re patient, you’re determined and you’re smart. In general, we have to count on the terrorists as not being as inept. The 9/11 attackers were smart and prepared. We have to assume they’re going to be smart."

Information about chlorine and it's potential to devastate human populations can be found by anyone on page 300 of the “orange book”, (US Department of Transportation Emergency Response Guide). The orange book is also used in Canada and is available on the Internet and in fire trucks from Alaska to Argentina.

Chlorine is a top-two concern regarding transportation terrorism for the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Millar says.

"The DHS recently did a field test and punctured a tank car. Terrorists in Iraq have been blowing up chlorine cylinders on trucks, honing their skills. A tank car is much preferable as a 'Weapon of Mass Destruction'---(American) federal regulators have said--- than other alternatives."

There are safe alternatives to chlorine. So why, Millar asks, does the government not stop the flow of chlorine through urban centres or force the industry to shift to the safe alternatives?

Excerpt of Corporate Profit vs. Public Safety, a New York Times editorial, June 20th, 2005:

One of the first steps any sane person would take to guard against terrorism is to stop rail tankers filled with deadly chemicals from passing within a few blocks of the Capitol. If a rail tanker was attacked in downtown Washington, it could put every member of Congress - and much of the rest of the city - at risk of instant death. But the railroad industry, concerned with saving money, has blocked reasonable rules for the transport of extremely hazardous materials. Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, has just introduced a bill to fix this disturbing hole in our national defense. Every member of the Senate and House should be supporting it.

One of the deadliest terrorist scenarios the Department of Homeland Security has come up with is an attack on a 90-ton rail tanker filled with chlorine. As many as 100,000 people could be killed or injured in less than 30 minutes. The simplest way of reducing the risk is banning rail tankers with deadly materials from areas that are likely terrorist targets. The Washington City Council recently did just that, banning hazardous materials from being transported within 2.2 miles of the Capitol without special permission. But CSX, the railroad giant, got a federal court to block the law from taking effect.

Other cities are considering following Washington's lead, as well they should. But city-by-city legislation will not solve this problem. The railroads will argue, as CSX did in its suit against Washington, that city governments do not have the authority to regulate them. And in any case, defending the country from a terrorist attack on hazardous materials requires a single national strategy, coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security.

Senator Biden's bill, though not perfect, would go a long way toward making the nation safer. It would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a list of extremely hazardous materials, and to designate "high-threat corridors" that because of dense population, strategic importance or other factors are particularly likely to be terrorist targets. In most cases, railroads would be required to reroute shipments containing extremely hazardous materials along safer paths.

Here is the recently posted information from Canada Transport's website:
Regulations on Transporting Hazardous Chemicals During the Olympics

Except from midnight to 0600, a person must not handle, offer for transport or transport in a road vehicle or a railway vehicle the following dangerous goods into, through or within Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5, Zone 6, Zone7, Zone 8, Zone 9, Zone 10, Zone 11, Zone 12 and Zone 13:

1. dangerous goods that require the display of a placard in accordance with Part 4, Dangerous Goods Safety Marks; or

2. dangerous goods that require an emergency response assistance plan.

It is imperative that for the safety and security of the public and participants in the 2010 Olympic Games, the transportation of certain dangerous goods be controlled into, through and within thirteen zones that encompass competition and non-competition Olympic venues in and around the Vancouver/Whistler and surrounding areas.

This risk based interim order responds to requirements agreed to by the RCMP and is built on the work of the Vancouver 2010 Security Surface Technical Working Group and consultation with industry and input from Transport Canada. This interim order establishes thirteen controlled access zones where the transport of certain dangerous goods into, through or within a zone are subject to controls.

It is important to note that the times provided in the interim order are the times of day when certain dangerous goods may be transported into, through or within the controlled access zones. All other aspects of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, and the Regulations continue to apply within and outside the thirteen controlled access zones. Dangerous goods inspectors will be enforcing this interim order as well as all other requirements established under the Act and Regulations during the games.

This interim order will not be made into a permanent regulation and will expire on March 4, 2010.

Zone Controlled Access Zone.

1. The downtown area of the City of Vancouver bounded by Broadway, Burrard Street, Clark Street and Burrard Inlet including the Vanterm and Centerm inter-modal terminals bounded by Stewart Street, Centennial Road, East Waterfront Road and West Waterfront Road

2. Port access bounded by Waterfront Road, the Port security fence and North Commercial Drive

3. The Sea-to-Sky highway (Highway 99), from Horseshoe Bay (Ansell Place – West Vancouver) to Pemberton, road and rail transport;

4. The Richmond Oval bounded by Westminister Highway, Gilbert Road, Dinsmore Bridge and No. 2 Rd Bridge and Russ Baker Way;

5. University of British Columbia bounded by SW Marine Drive, Blanca Street West 16th Avenue and University Blvd;

6. Hillcrest bounded by Cambie Street, East 37th Avenue, Main Street, West King Edward Avenue.

7. Cypress Bowl Road – bounded from Eagle Lake Access Road crossing to the north end of the Cypress bowl road..

8. Kilarney bounded by East 49th Avenue, Kerr Street, Rupert Street, 45th Avenue, Kilarney Street, East 46th Avenue, Raleigh Street and East 48th Street.

9. Pacific Coliseum bounded by McGill Street, McGill Highway access ramp, East Hasting Street onramp, East Hasting Street and Nanaimo Street

10. Trout Lake bounded by East 12th Avenue, Grand View Highway, Nanaimo Street, Vanness Avenue, Stainsbury Avenue and Commercial Drive.

11. Britannia bounded by Clark Drive, Venables Street, Commercial Drive and Charles Street

12. Vancouver Airport – bounded at Service road (Petro Canada) and Grant McConichie Way and Miller Road and unnamed road at Grant McConichie Way.

13. RCMP Head Quarters - Integrated Security Unit (ISU) bounded by Steveston Highway, Highway 99 (Steveston Weight Scale), Rice Mill Road, Number 5 Road, Machina Way, Horseshoe Way, Hammersmith way, Hammersmith Gate and Shell Road

So this is what a chlorine cloud looks like? Photo above from an August 14, 2002, chlorine release at DPC Enterprises in Festus, Missouri. In that incident, a transfer hose failed catastrophically during the unloading of a chlorine rail car. Due to the malfunction of an automatic shutdown system, the leak continued unabated for several hours, eventually causing the release of about 48,000 pounds of toxic chlorine gas. Sixty-three people, including workers and nearby residents, sought hospital treatment as the result of the leak. Pulled from the US Chemical Safety Board website.

Friday, January 8, 2010

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