Chlorine Thefts Are Deadly Business (Rep. Edward Markey)

Last week my office was leaked an alarming email from chlorine industry insiders revealing that there have been both successful and attempted thefts of 150-pound toxic chlorine cylinders from several California water treatment facilities.  These revelations make clear that there are massive security gaps at chemical facilities around the country.  In fact, it appears that there are nightclubs in New York City that are harder to get into than some of our nation’s chemical plants.

Most of us think of chlorine as nothing more than a strong-smelling chemical that helps keep swimming pools clean.  But in the hands of the wrong people, chlorine can pose a serious danger to Americans. According to media reports at least five chlorine truck bombs have exploded in Iraq in recent months, killing dozens of people and injuring many more after they breathed the toxic fumes. And experts have estimated that a rail tanker car full of chlorine could kill or injure 100,000 people just in the first half hour!

In light of these recent deadly attacks using stolen chlorine to create improvised chemical weapons and the fact that safer chemicals and processes are both available and inexpensive for water treatment facilities, I was joined by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) in writing to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.  We asked Secretary Chertoff to provide a list of all U.S. thefts, losses or attempted thefts of materials that are toxic by inhalation for the past 5 years.

Our letter also emphasized to the Secretary that the U.S. should move to replace chlorine from the water purification process with safer chemicals, as I’ve attempted to do legislatively for several years. Inexpensive and simple alternatives exist to using highly toxic chemicals that provide tempting targets for terrorists.  Why shouldn’t the U.S. be moving quickly to switch over to the safer methods?  Despite a recent study that found switching from chlorine gas to safer technologies would cost no more than $1.50 per person served by the facility per year, the chemical industry and its allies in Congress continue to fight against this sensible security safeguard.. This simple switch, particularly at high-risk facilities, would improve the safety and security of all Americans.

(Our letter to DHS and chlorine industry email available on my web site at http://markey.house.gov)

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