Friday, October 06, 2006


Mass chemical production facilities, chemical storage and transportation have been a part of American life for decades. Sometimes they explode or catch fire. Railcars and trucks overturn and rupture. Spills occur with some frequency. There are evacuations. People are sickened and some die.

Not counting pollution, there are hazards, serious ones, associated with having a big chemical industry.

But having a chemical industry during the war on terror isn't automatically an apocalyptic boobytrap awaiting detonation, despite frequent claims that evil men lurk everywhere. It is misused when it is dragged into one act plays aimed at driving people mad with fear over terrorism. Reality is a little more complex and unpredictable. Fortunately.

Today, from Associated Press:
More than 17,000 people were urged to flee their homes early Friday after a thunderous series of explosions and a raging fire at a hazardous-waste disposal plant released a greenish-yellow cloud of deadly chlorine gas.

No employees were believed to have been inside the EQ Industrial Services plant on the outskirts of Raleigh [North Carolina] when it was rocked by the blasts late Thursday. Officials said 44 people went to emergency rooms, most complaining of breathing problems, but nearly all had been released by midday.

A timely morning rainstorm helped scrub the air as firefighters cautiously approached the chemical fire. . . . The plant handles a variety of industrial wastes, includes paints, solvents, pesticides and weed killer.
As a thought exercise, compare the news with the following statements on terrorists theoretically attacking chemical plants.

"Of all the various remaining civilian vulnerabilities in America today, one stands alone as uniquely deadly, pervasive and susceptible to terrorist attack: toxic-inhalation-hazard (TIH) industrial chemicals . . . The IDLs (immediately dangerous to life standard) for the two most common industrial chemicals, ammonia and chlorine, is 500 and 10 parts per million, effectively," said Richard Falkenrath, a well-known national and local (as in NYC) apparatchik in 2005.

Falkenrath was flogging the menace of terror attack on insecure chemical facilities before Congress. To get attention, he cited grave theoretical statistics, instead of real world items.

"A cleverly designed terrorist attack against a . . . chemical target would be no more difficult to pepetrate than the simultaneous suicide hijacking aircraft by 19 terrorists . . ." proclaimed Falkenrath.

And then, the prediction of Old Testament-style tribulation:

. . . the loss of life could easily equal that which occured on September 11, 2001 -- and might even exceed it by an order of magnitude or more . . . even the most conservative estimates of the Department of Homeland Security concede that there is at least one [jargon deleted] chemical facility which, if successfully attacked, could result in more than one million deaths."


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