Chlorine Bleach Plants Needlessly Endanger 63 Million Americans

by Rick Hind, Greenpeace

Chlorine bleach plants across the U.S. put millions of Americans in danger of a chlorine gas release, a substance so toxic it has been used as a chemical weapon. Greenpeace’s new report on bleach manufacturing facilities examines the problems with using chlorine gas and puts forward safer alternatives now in use.

There are currently 86 commercial bleach plants in the U.S. that use huge quantities of chlorine gas during their operations. These facilities endanger more than 63 million people living in “vulnerability zones” near the facilities with the potential to release deadly amounts of chlorine gas in a worst-case scenario. Bleach manufacturers use gaseous chlorine to produce bleach and also repackage bulk chlorine gas into smaller containers for commercial use.

These facilities frequently ship, receive, and store their chlorine gas in 90-ton rail cars that are vulnerable to accidents and acts of sabotage. These rail cars crisscross the country delivering chlorine gas to facilities, endangering the communities through which they travel.

The report lists 10 bleach plants from the New York City area to Los Angeles that each put one million or more people at risk of a disaster.  But bleach plants can operate without such a catastrophic hazard. An increasing number of bleach facilities operate without bulk chlorine gas storage and transportation, a transition that has in some cases removed a catastrophic danger to thousands of nearby residents.

And many chlorine gas consumers, such as drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities, can switch to safer alternatives for water treatment including liquid bleach and ultraviolet light.

Report recommendations to reduce the storage, transport, and use of chlorine gas:

  1. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should include requirements for bleach plants to identify and use inherently safer technology (IST) wherever feasible in the agency’s upcoming Risk Management Program (RMP) chemical plant safety rules due in early 2016.

  2. The EPA should collect and make public information on safer available alternatives in RMP reports.

  3. Bleach manufacturing facilities should prioritize a transition from chlorine gas to liquid bleach and require sourcing from suppliers that produce chlorine from an on-site, as-needed basis to eliminate storage and transport of bulk chlorine gas. In addition, bleach facilities that transition from chlorine gas to liquid bleach should make public the method of production of their bleach suppliers.

  4. Industrial chlorine consumers should adopt alternatives to gaseous chlorine. For example, drinking water and wastewater treatment plants could generate their chlorine bleach on-site or purchase from bleach plants that do not transport or store bulk quantities of chlorine gas. Wastewater plants can also switch to ultraviolet (UV) light for disinfection.

  5. Local governments and communities should demand that bleach plants and other local facilities that pose catastrophic hazards convert to safer available alternatives such as ultraviolet (UV) light at municipal wastewater treatment plants.


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