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Los Angeles, CA - Bleach plants across California put millions of people in danger of a potential worst-case release of chlorine gas, a substance so toxic it has been used as a chemical weapon. A new report by Greenpeace and allied organizations on bleach manufacturing facilities examines the inherent hazards associated with using and storing bulk quantities of chlorine gas and highlights safer available alternatives now in use at other bleach making facilities.
There are, currently, 8 bleach-making plants across California that continue to use huge quantities of chlorine gas, including 3 plants in the greater Los Angeles area. These 3 facilities in Torrance and Santa Fe Springs collectively endanger more than 5 million people living nearby in what the U.S. EPA refers to as "vulnerability zones." These facilities are required to disclose these hazards to the EPA but are not required to switch to safer available alternatives.
"Beach plants that use and store chlorine gas are a public health disaster waiting to happen," said Jason Pfeifle, CALPIRG Public Health Advocate.
Bleach manufacturers use gaseous chlorine to produce bleach and also repackage bulk chlorine gas into smaller containers for commercial use. These facilities frequently ship and receive their chlorine gas in 90-ton rail cars that are vulnerable to accidents and acts of sabotage. A typical vulnerability zone consists of a 14 to 20 mile radius surrounding each plant.
"Every day, rail cars crisscross the country delivering hundreds of tons of chlorine gas and endangering the communities through which they travel. Just one such rail car can put much of an entire city in danger," said Rick Hind, Greenpeace Legislative Director.
Chlorine gas was the first deadly gas used in World War I. In high doses it results in pulmonary edema. The victim drowns in their own lung fluid. Just one of several 90-ton rail cars stored on site a bleach plant can put much of an entire city in danger.
Bleach plants can, however, operate without this catastrophic hazard, and an increasing number of them now operate without bulk chlorine gas storage or transportation. In some cases, this transition has removed the danger of a catastrophic release of chlorine gas to thousands of nearby residents.
Instead bleach manufacturers can produce chlorine on-site on an as-needed basis that eliminates any need for bulk storage or long distant transport. 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:
- As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updates accident prevention rules due in March it should include requirements for bleach plants and other high risk facilities to identify and use inherently safer technology (IST) available alternatives.
- The EPA should collect and make public information on safer available alternatives in its Risk Management Program reports.
- Chlorine 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.
- Industrial chlorine consumers should adopt alternatives to gaseous chlorine. For example, drinking water and wastewater treatment plants could generate 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.
- Local governments and communities should demand that chlorine 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.
"These bleach plants could cause a crisis immeasurably worse than the massive Porter Ranch gas leak. We can't let that happen," said Jason Pfeifle.
CALPIRG is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and to promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future. In the U.S. Greenpeace has approximately 250,000 members who provide virtually all of its funding through individual contributions.
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