One Accident Every 44 hours = Zero Harm

That’s not our maths, teacher Sir, its Dow’s. From 1990 until 2003, almost the entire duration of Dow’s pioneering membership of the self regulating, non evaluating programme of chemical industry PR that is Responsible Care, Dow was Responsible for 2,562 instances of Carelessness – or, one chemical accident in the US every 44 hours. Only BP bested our dear Dirty Dow in the chemical accident table. Over the same period, members of the Responsible Care programme generated around five accidents a day between them: little wonder they’re so averse to having anything quantified. We’re also proud to report that in 2000 Dow stood peerless in the dioxin release league, spewing out 33% more of the stuff more than their nearest rival. Bless. One more figure. Over the 13 years, Dow were also involved in 85 accidents involving rail transport: moving hazardous chemicals by freight is today recognised as a serious vulnerability given ongoing concerns about possible terrorist targetting of the industry.

What is the industry’s response to these dangers? Oh, is it that obvious? On Friday US officials Senator Corzine and Congressman Pallone joined the Bhopal delegation in pointing out the risks posed by the chemical industry persisting with hazardous technologies instead of safer alternatives and calling for national security standards for the chemical industry. “Twenty years after the Bhopal tragedy, the survivors and people of Bhopal are amazed and appalled we are still dealing with the same problem the world over,” commented Rashida and Champa. “America must recognize that thousands of Bhopals are waiting to happen within its borders, and should take steps to ensure that a similar disaster does not happen here.” See here for an earlier feature examining Dow’s eccentric attitude to terrorism, among other things.

The figures above are listed in two new reports by the U.S PIRG, the first entitle This is Also Dow, the second simply Irresponsible Care.

For Immediate Release:
April 23, 2004

Victims of Worst Industrial Disaster From Bhopal Call on U.S. Government and Dow Chemical Company to Avoid Tragedy: Senator Corzine, Representative Pallone Call for Strong Federal Standards

WASHINGTON—Nearly 20 years after the world’s worst industrial disaster, survivors and activists from the 1984 Bhopal tragedy warn that terrorists could easily turn chemical plants and freight trains into weapons of mass destruction in the United States and are calling on both Dow Chemical Company and the U.S. Government to prevent such a catastrophe. The Dow/Union Carbide gas leak on December 3, 1984 killed more than 20,000 people in Bhopal India.

“Twenty years after the Bhopal tragedy, the survivors and people of Bhopal are amazed and appalled we are still dealing with the same problem the world over,” commented Bhopal survivors Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla. “America must recognize that thousands of Bhopals are waiting to happen within its borders, and should take steps to ensure that a similar disaster does not happen here.”

Goldman Environmental Prize Winners Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, both victims of the Bhopal tragedy, as well as Satinath Sarangi, who has provided for care of 12,800 victims, were joined by elected officials, including Senator Corzine (NJ), and D.C. Councilmember Kathy Patterson, as well as environmental and public interest advocates at the event.

“The vulnerability of chemical facilities to a potential terrorist attack is well-documented. Yet as we near three years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we have yet to take the first step in setting national security standards for our chemical infrastructure,” said Senator Jon Corzine (NJ).”These facilities should be required to assess their vulnerabilities, and improve their security. Security means hiring more guards and building higher fences but also making chemical facilities less attractive targets and less dangerous if an attack were to succeed by encouraging industry to use safer technologies where practicable.”

Across the United States, thousands of industrial facilities use and store hazardous chemicals in quantities that could threaten communities in accidental releases or if deliberately attacked by terrorists. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 100 facilities have at least 1 million people living close enough to be at risk of injury or death in the event of a chemical release. On February 12, 2003, the Department of Homeland Security warned that terrorists “. . . may attempt to launch conventional attacks against the U.S. nuclear/chemical-industrial infrastructure to cause contamination, disruption, and terror.”

“It is unacceptable that Dow Chemical and other companies’ facilities continue to threaten so many lives across the country,” said U.S. Public Interest Research Group Legislative Director Anna Aurilio. “We should act now by requiring chemical facilities to use safer chemicals and processes wherever possible to prevent a tragedy like Bhopal here in the U.S.”

Dow Chemical Company, which acquired Union Carbide’s Bhopal site in 2001 but has taken no responsibility for cleanup of the remaining toxic contaminants, puts nearly 8 million people living near its U.S. plants at risk for injury or death in the event of an accident or terrorist attack, according to an analysis by U.S. PIRG. Dow Chemical had 2,562 accidents between 1990 and 2003, including 85 accidents involving rail transport.

The Chemical Security Act, introduced by Senator Corzine (NJ) and Representative Pallone (NJ) would require companies to assess their hazards, increase security, and make their plants safer by using safer chemicals and processes where available. Within eight weeks following the September 11th attacks, Washington, D.C., converted its use of chlorine at the main sewage treatment plant (Blue Plains) to safer chemicals. Unfortunately few other chemical plants have implemented reforms voluntarily. A recent report by U.S. PIRG showed chemical facilities owned by companies enrolled in an industry-sponsored voluntary safety program have had more than 1,800 accidents per year since 1990 and criticizes Bush Administration plans to address safety and security at chemical facilities by industry self-regulation.

“America should heed the message of Bhopal survivors and require chemical facilities to use safer chemicals and processes wherever possible,” said Greenpeace Toxics Program Legislative Director Rick Hind. “If Congress and the Bush Administration are determined to wait for an American Bhopal, then the D.C. Council must move its legislation on May 10th to require the rerouting of any substances that can be turned into a weapon of mass destruction.”

Freight trains carrying deadly chlorine and other toxic chemicals continue to pass within four blocks of the Capitol every day. The US Naval Research Lab testified before the D.C. Council that a terrorist-caused release of a toxic chlorine gas cloud from just one tank car over a crowded National Mall could kill or injure 100,000 people in one half hour. The Department of Homeland Security is due to issue a policy options paper to address this threat by May 7th. DC Council members David Catania (R), Kathy Patterson (D), and Carol Schwartz (R) introduced legislation to require the rerouting of these substances around the DC area.

This 1996 train derailment in Montana released 122,000 pounds of chlorine gas, killing one person and hospitalizing 352. 1996 was one of the US chemical industry’s better years…

“The District shouldn’t wait for Congress and the Bush administration to protect us,” said D.C. Councilmember Kathy Patterson “While we should reduce the need for transporting dangerous chemicals nationwide by requiring safer alternative chemicals and processes, D.C.’s rerouting bill will eliminate the risk from trains passing through our neighborhoods past the U.S. Capitol building today.”


For More Information, contact:
Rick Hind, Greenpeace
(202) 319-2445
David Lerner, Riptide Communications
(212) 260-5000
Jen Mueller, U.S. PIRG
(202) 546-9707

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