It has been a month now since someone broke into the Regional Water Corporation's water treatment facility in Montgomery County, TX and stole 150-lbs of Chlorine in a 150-lb metal cylinder. The original report indicated that the Sherriff’s Office felt that it was taken as a prank; one month later and no sign of the tank, that is one serious prank. According to the Chlorine Institute three similar tanks were stolen from two water treatment facilities in California early this year; those were probably pranks too.
Never mind that similar size tanks stolen from water treatment facilities in Iraq have been used to make the chemical equivalent of dirty bombs used in a number of attacks against civilian targets in Iraq. The release of 150-lbs of chlorine in an open area will probably produce few deaths, but it will make it harder for first responders to treat and evacuate people injured by flying metal that accompanies such explosions. More importantly it creates confusion and terror, the prime tool of the terrorist.
Never mind that releasing 150-lbs of chlorine into a small church, synagogue or classroom will have serious consequences for the people that manage to escape with their lives; lung damage, chemical burns and blindness will mark them as survivors. Those that do not make it out will just be dead. I guess that pranks cannot get much more serious than that.
From the newspaper articles in The Courier of Montgomery County it is hard to tell just how serious authorities are taking the situation. The latest article, 7-12-07, still reports that the local sheriffs’ office still thinks that “the theft is the work of juveniles, who may not even have known what they got their hands on.” Hopefully, other law enforcement agencies are taking the theft more seriously.
The new chemical facility security standards would not have prevented these thefts; they do not apply to water treatment facilities by direction of Congress. Even if they had not been exempted by Congress, they would not have been covered unless there were more than 12 such cylinders in inventory at any one time. The proposed Appendix A to the regulation lists an 1875 lbs Screening Threshold Quantity. It is only once this STQ is exceeded that a facility has to fill out a Top Screen Questionnaire for DHS to determine if it is a regulated High Risk Facility.
Hopefully I am wrong about my suspicions of possible terrorist involvement. Maybe next week some parent will find this silver cylinder marked ‘Chlorine Gas’ in their garage or storage room and notify the police; yeah maybe.