"It goes into your city as a cold dense killing cloud," hazardous materials consultant says of chlorine disasters
A Canadian company is dumping its "waste chlorine" into the markets of the United States and by doing so, alleges a hazardous material expert in Washington, DC, the company is endangering the lives of millions of citizens in and beyond Vancouver. Washington, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis have banned chlorine from being transported along their rails and Fred Millar, the hazardous materials expert, says the Olympics offers a "teachable moment" to Vancouver regarding the dangers of transporting the chlorine through the city.
A spill, according to the chlorine industry itself, could kill people within 15 miles of the track. The information is out there, and it's scary. But, I wonder as I sift through my notes, after talking to Millar, does Vancouver want to learn?
Strategy to keep people in the dark?
"As if this wasn’t used in WWI. It was so damn effective. It kills people so horribly. When you inhale chlorine, you burn your lungs, and you drown in your own fluids. It is a horrible death. It is so horrible that in WWI they outlawed chlorine gas. In the countries that fought, the diplomats made a gentleman’s agreement that chlorine was too horrible to use in warfare. But the punch line of all that is: 'My God they didn’t outlaw the machine gun, but they outlawed chlorine.' Apparently they can slaughter millions with a machine gun but death by chlorine is too horrible. Basically people are facing a horrible, horrible risk and communities are being kept in the dark about it. That’s the only way you can ship chlorine around the country like it’s peanut butter. Keep people in the dark."
Meet Fred Millar, of Washington, DC. He's very upset about what he sees as a risk to millions from chlorine transports.
Fred Millar, a hazardous material transportation and security consultant believes Canadians in general and Vancouverites in particular are ignorant. I'm personally shocked that the reporting from the Vancouver Observer of the dangers chlorine poses to the city has not led to television stories, radio stories, Globe and Mail stories---and ultimately public hearings that would ban chlorine from passing through our city.
"The only reason they’re moving their rail cars out of Vancouver is rail security," Millar said, after reading the Vancouver Observer/Tyee story yesterday and phoning to fill in more of the picture. "Only Washington DC enacted a mandatory re-routing (ban) of chlorine and other ultra hazardous chemical cargoes by rail and truck - and got stymied by a lawsuit from the railroads and the Bush Admin. The 9 other cities (and 2 states) introduced ordinances but did not enact them waiting for the DC court case to resolve."
Foreign policy puts Canada at risk?
"My argument to Canadians has been, 'if you guys had a sensible foreign policy where you were not in bed with the American occupying Arab countries all over the place, you wouldn't be a target.' But dammit you have been in bed with America in America’s misadventures. The recent terrorist attacks that have been most sensational in transportation have been against Spain and England. They killed 192 people in Spain. Immediately Spain withdrew their troops. In England, the Blair administration's support of America has been very unpopular. They attacked London with four bombs in the transit system that killed 50 people. I’m just talking about transportation attacks connected with the countries that supported US occupations on Arab lands. That is a whole discussion here in the US."
Millar contradicted a Canexus official's assertion that the chlorine rail cars that will allegedly be parked in the back yard of a Washington State couple are strong enough to withstand it if someone threw a grenade at them. "Not a single tank car in this country has ever been made to withstand a terrorist attack. They put on thermal insulation, a new coupling device and head shields: a big metal wall. The only thing a chlorine tank car is made to withstand is a general roll down the hill."
Let Bhopal be a warning? What follows now is a direct transcript of my conversation with Millar. In his words:
After the Union Carbide accident in Bhopal, India everybody was asking 'can it happen here?' Methyl Isocyanate leaked into Bhopal overnight and killed an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people. And about 100,000 were injured. Maybe 200,000. Now Union Carbide has been bought by Dow Chemical. Dow Chemical has just announced that they’ve reduced their poison gas cargos like chlorine and others (TIH—toxic by inhalation) that they’ve reduced their cargo by 40% and will reduce it by another 50% in the next few years."
"The main point here is the shippers of really dangerous cargos are increasingly concerned about the use of these cargos as a terrorist weapon. The Dow announcement is one example of that.
If Canadians only knew...
Canadians have been kept so innocent in all of this and I could not get one Canadian news agency to cover this. They say we don’t think we can get a story about rail security because we’ve been covering rail accidents.
Clorox ditches chlorine
Here’s what I need to explain to you about Chlorox. They aren’t going to ship liquefied gas.
The company has 130 plants around the world and has said we’re not going to transport chlorine anymore. They say we’re in a regulatory environment. That means people are pissed off at them. People are saying it is outrageous to be shipping chlorine through major cities.
Clorox is not going to ship chlorine gas. They’re going to buy industrial bleach that’s already been made out of chlorine. Clorox Company is a very rich company. They’re not going to ship chlorine but they’re going to buy bleach from somebody else. Clorox may be buying industrial bleach from a company in Vancouver. Canexus will be shipping chlorine and some other company will be using it. Clorox is trying to protect their deep pockets by buying only bleach, not chlorine gas.
Worse case scenario
If Canexus has a terrible release and it kills 10,000 people, Canexus will go bankrupt and they’ll just walk away. The people in Burnaby or Vancouver won’t have someone they can sue. Clorox wants to get out of legal liability.
There is one other possibility besides terrorism why Canexus is storing dozens of chlorine tank cars 150 feet from homes in Belmont, WA. Maybe the price of Canexus-origin chlorine gas has plummeted. Or perhaps it has dropped relative to other producers desperate to get rid of their waste product such as US
Magnesium in Utah, another disastrously sited plant regarding getting rid of waste chlorine from magnesium production.
The US Naval research lab said in testimony in the Washington DC city council on re-routing, which they enacted on a 10-1 vote. The bill said if you’re bringing chlorine gas and other hazardous cargos through this city and you don’t have an origin or destination in this area, go around.
The thing that Canadians….you know that those cargos are mainly going to the United States from Vancouver. There was a comment to your [Linda Solomon and Megan Stewart's] article [on The Tyee] that said, 'well, this is because you have a comparative advantage, Canexus has an advantage where it is that they can sell it to the US. Canexus is the most disasterously sited chlorine production plant in North America. They are trying to ship to customers mostly in the US. Their huge long transportation routes involves routes through major cities. Why would anybody think it’s a good idea to have a chlorine production plant in N. America that is going to sell to customers way way across the US. Isn’t that costly? It is. That’s because chlorine is a waste product. It’s being produced in N. Van as a waste product. Ever since the beginning of history, chlorine has been produced as a byproduct of sodium hydroxide. It’s a very valuable chemical. It’s extremely valuable as a feedstock for other uses.
Hiding in Houston
The Houston fire chief had his local community emergency planning committee, the local emergency planning committee did Vulnerable Zone Map around the chemical facilities in Houston. That means you draw these circles of the people at risk from a worse case release, showing who is at risk from a leak from these facilities. The vulnerable zone in Houston covered 94 schools and 14 hospitals. When the fire chief got that report from this committee, he stuck it in the basement of city hall and didn’t show anybody for five months. The Houston Post found out about it and put it on the front page of the paper and interviewed the fire chief and said, "why are you suppressing this important data?"
The chief said the classic answer: "Well, I didn’t want to alarm the people of Houston."
The people who know don’t tell the public. Even though he was operating with a right to know law. Once he got the data, he wouldn’t tell the public.
Information won't hurt you, but chlorine could
The West County Times in Contra Costa County, North of San Francisco, did a two-page spread of Vulnerable Zones graphics, Dec 13, 1993. This full two-page colour spread showed the vulnerable zones around the plants and Western Civilization did not fall to its knees.
The companies and the local officials who know have to be forced to give the information to the public and that takes a map. You have to show the public in a graphic way what could happen.
What the map would show you:
The vulnerable zone in Vancouver would be 15-mile zone on each side of the track....and the actual release is only going to impact people in a much more narrow zone under the plume.
Steve Flynn of the US Homeland security official did a scenario of a toxic chemical attack in Philadelphia that could produce a cloud over the city that would go over the local baseball stadium…that was his scenario…That’s in his book, "The Edge of Disaster."
Even the US is unprepared.
Former Chairman Carolyn Merritt of the US Chem Safety Board said US communities are unprepared. She compared them to Bhopal. There are lovely safety videos on the website on the Emergency Response's lack of preparedness in the US. The official title is Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.
Communities are unprepared and this board is worried that citizens aren’t taking this stuff seriously because they are uninformed.