Think all those toxic chemicals stockpiled at industrial plants around Houston are safe and secure? Well, think again.
According to Greenpeace, the giant holding tanks and railroad cars full full of hazardous materials are ripe for disaster -- be it by terrorist attack or work-related accident -- potentially harming hundreds of thousands of local residents.
To prove its point, the national environmental advocacy group recently inspected the Dow Chemical plant in Freeport, one of the largest chemical manufacturing facilities in the world.
"There was no security whatsoever," John Deans of Greenpeace tells Hair Balls. "There were rail cars with stickers on them saying 'Inhalation hazard,' and the only thing standing in between us and it was a little ditch, and we just didn't want to get our feet wet to walk across."
Deans says the rail car was full of ethelyne oxide, a recognized carcinogen, which is used to make a compound chemical that helps produce consumer products such as plastic bottles, clothing, furniture, detergents and automotive coolants.
After inspecting the Dow facility, which spans more than 5,000 acres and has 65 production plants, Greenpeace issued a report, essentially flunking the chemical security at the plant.
One issue of contention is the possible worst-case scenario. The facility is required to give the EPA such an assessment, which according to Greenpeace, states that the release of 23,000 pounds of phosgene would potentially be felt 25 miles from the plant, impacting 131,000 people. Phosgene, a possible respiratory toxicant, was used as a chemical weapon during World War I and today is a building block to make plastics and pesticides.
Greenpeace says that the data is misleading, because it only accounts for a single holding container and not the total amount of dangerous stuff kept on site. The group says that the plant stores eight times as much phosgene as detailed in the facility's worst-case scenario, and that the scenario does not address the 7.6 million pounds of chlorine gas stored there.
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According to the EPA, Texas has the most chemical facilities with the potential to harm more than 100,000 people than any other state. Texas has 100 such plants; the next closest, California, has 58.
There is, however, apparently a solution in the works. Greenpeace claims that chemicals such as phosgene "could be made and used with a just-in-time process that would eliminate the need for the bulk storage and transport in rail cars, which make this facility high-risk."
Last year, according to Greenpeace, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would force high-risk chemical plants use safer processes. The bill is now in the Senate.
Greenpeace is holding a forum to discuss chemical security at Dow and other plants on Saturday from 3-4 p.m. at Rice University's Sewall Hall, Room 309.