Monday, March 22, 2010

Greenpeace Targets Collins

According to an article on (Maine Public Broadcasting) a Greenpeace activist talked to reporters outside of Sen. Collin’s (R, ME) office in Bangor, ME last week about the importance of supporting HR 2868 and the IST mandate included in that bill. Since Sen. Collins is leading the opposition to the IST mandate in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Operations Committee, changing her mind (however unlikely) would probably result in HR 2868 actually being considered by the Committee. David Pomerantz, of the Boston office of Greenpeace, pointed out that seven facilities in Maine have voluntarily “eliminated the [toxic chemical] risks by converting to safer, cost-effective chemicals”. He then named six facilities in Maine that have yet to make such a conversion and, as a result, still threatened “tens of thousands of Mainers”. Mike Belliveau, director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Maine, joined Pomerantz in calling for the Maine facilities to switch to safer chemicals. Unfortnately, Belliveau took the slightly exaggerated claim of facility risk made by Greenpeace and blew it all out of proportion when he said:
“If that chlorine was released in an accident or through a terrorist act, 145,000 Mainers in a 25-mile radius could immediately become injured and even killed through this toxic gas cloud rolling through our neighborhoods.”
First off, as I mentioned in the earlier blog, only a small fraction of that ’25-mile radius’ would actually be exposed to chlorine gas in a catastrophic release. Since chlorine can only spread with the wind it could take quite some time for the toxic cloud to spread to the 25-mile limit of exposure risk. In fact a stronger wind which would spread the cloud quicker would actually reduce the toxicity of the cloud. With a minimally effective emergency response plan there would be a couple orders of magnitude fewer casualties than claimed by Belliveau. Now, don’t get me wrong. Chlorine is a nasty toxic chemical. Those personnel exposed to lethal concentrations of the gas (most likely plant personnel and immediate down wind neighbors in a catastrophic release) will die a horrible death. Those exposed to less than lethal concentrations will have a variety of injuries, a limited number of which will affect the injured the rest of their lives. No Industry Response Unfortunately Public Broadcasting the piece by Anne Mostue, will leave the listener/viewers with the grossly exaggerated claims of Belliveau standing as ‘facts’. The article does note that the attempts were made to talk to facility representatives but no response was received. It is unfortunate that there was not an attempt to talk to first responders or local emergency planners in the area to get their view of the risk. With the public debate being pushed very effectively by Greenpeace and other environmental and labor activists, it is a shame that the chemical industry does not undertake an education campaign to provide potentially effected people with the actual facts about the possible hazards and the efforts being taken to both prevent and mitigate catastrophic leaks of these toxic chemicals. This lack of response is especially disturbing considering the legal and moral obligations that these facilities have to communicate chemical safety information to the population at potential risk. Allowing this exaggerated information to stand unchallenged is a complete abrogation of their hazard communication responsibility and probably increases the likelihood that counterproductive IST language will be included in any legislation that could come out of Congress, state legislatures or local government agencies.


Fred Millar said...

It is useful to clarify the risks of chlorine etc. in risk communication for citizens, PJ, as you did in part re the number of citizens at risk from a chlorine gas release. But the first plume map I ever say, over 20 years ago, from the US Coast Guard, said a chlorine cloud could go 2 miles in 10 minutes. Isn't it interesting that almost never has a Local Emergency Planning Committee ever even considered how fast a Worst Case Scenario toxic cloud can move, much less actually communicate the risk to the citizens? Cleveland's Cuyahoga County LEPC may be the sole exception that proves the rule, with its calculations of "Near Zones" that take account of how fast the local chemical facilities' toxic releases could overwhelm a nearby neighborhood, making virtually impossible either effective Shelter in Place or evacuation. This is one more piece of evidence on how dismally our two federal Right to Know laws have been thwarted by those who want to keep the public in the dark.

PJCoyle said...

My response to Fred's comment can be found at:

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