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VALLEY WATER PLANTS AT RISK STUDY: RAIL CARS EASY TERROR TARGET.

Byline: HARRISON SHEPPARD

Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- Two water-treatment plants in the San Fernando Valley are among dozens nationwide that are susceptible to terrorist attack because they use deadly chlorine gas and transport it by unprotected rail cars, according to a new report.

The study by a progressive think tank identified 37 plants that transport chlorine gas by rail, leaving them vulnerable to attack and jeopardizing millions of residents nearby. The report noted that at least 25 plants nationwide have converted to safer purification methods in the past six years.

"It's an entirely preventable hazard," study author Paul Orum said Monday. "Safer and more secure alternatives are available and more affordable."

Among the sites that still use chlorine gas are the Department of Water and Power's Los Angeles Aqueduct Filtration Plant in Sylmar and the Metropolitan Water District's Joseph Jensen Filtration Plant in Granada Hills.

Also in the Los Angeles area is the MWD's F.E. Weymouth Water Treatment Plant in La Verne.

The study was produced by the Center for American Progress, based in Washington, D.C., and headed by John Podesta, 1998-2001 chief of staff for then-President Clinton. Orum is an independent consultant who specializes in safety issues involving toxins.

Chlorine gas is used for water purification but can be deadly when inhaled. Orum said a rupture, either by accident or attack, could endanger people within 14 miles in urban areas or 25 miles in suburban and rural areas, depending on wind conditions. The report says 2 million people live within range of the two plants in the Valley, while about 305,000 people live near the La Verne facility.

Kim Thompson, chairwoman of the Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council, said she and other residents have long worried about the chlorine-filled rail cars stored at the plants. She said Jensen plant officials have refused requests to install alarms to alert residents if there is a gas leak.

"I'm personally scared," Thompson said. "I know it's dangerous. Common sense and a high school chemistry class will tell you storing that much chlorine (is risky)."

MWD officials said residents would be alerted to a leak by local agencies, such as the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Safer methods

The study noted alternatives for purifying water, including liquid chlorine bleach, which does not disperse into the air if spilled, and ultraviolet light.

Converting to safer methods costs the equivalent of $1.50 per customer per year, the authors said. They noted that in the Los Angeles area, the county's Joint Water Pollution Control Plant in Carson was converted to liquid bleach in 2004.

But some utility officials said the two alternatives are not as effective as chlorine gas, particularly for facilities as large as the DWP and MWD plants.

David Nahai, president of the city's Department of Water and Power board, said liquid chlorine requires 20 times the volume in transportation as chlorine gas, meaning there would be 20 times as many rail tankers or trucks carrying the material.

"That's an additional public health risk, and you'd need additional security," Nahai said. "I don't think you eliminate the problem. You might actually make it 20 times larger by switching."

Ultraviolet light alone, he added, has not proved to be effective in purifying water, especially for larger facilities.

Nahai said L.A. utility officials want to reduce use of chlorine gas. One way, he said, would be to stop using open-air reservoirs, which require a higher level of purification.

The DWP also has increased security at all of its facilities since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he said.

Eddie Rigdon, manager of water-system operations for the MWD of Southern California, said the agency is building a $100 million chlorine-containment facility at Jensen to house tanker cars and shield the community from any possible leaks. He said agency officials have considered ultraviolet light and other methods, but believe chlorine gas is the most effective.

"Over the years, we have done substantial studies on different disinfection treatments," Rigdon said. "One of the challenges we have is the sheer quantity and volumes of water we deal with. Chlorine (gas), along with ozone, is really the most effective."

Water for 18 million

The MWD treats and distributes up to 1.8 billion gallons of water every day, serving 18 million Southern Californians.

This year, terrorists have repeatedly used chlorine-based truck bombs in attacks in Iraq. In the United States, there have been more than 30 deaths caused by accidental spills in the past three decades, but no known incidents of terrorism.

Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, that requires railroad operators and state officials to study security vulnerabilities in the rail system and plan ways to address them. The first report is due July 1.

"Whenever you have toxic substances or other hazardous cargo being transported across long distances and through populated areas, there is a reason for concern," said Chris Bertelli of the California Office of Homeland Security.

Currently, he said, there are no known specific threats to rail systems in California.

Chlorine has been identified in the past as a potential threat, and some major chemical manufacturers last year launched an effort to replace their entire U.S. and Canadian rail-car fleets with safer models by 2017.

The companies, including Dow Chemical and Occidental Chemical, created the Chlorine Rail Tank Car Development Coordination Panel last year to work on safer designs and enhanced security in human factors, routing and track conditions.

harrison.sheppard(at)dailynews.com

(916) 446-6723

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Chlorine rail tankers concern

Joseph Jensen Filtration Plant

L.A. Aqueduct Filtration Plant

Source: Center for American Progress

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 10, 2007
Words:949
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