May 23, 2006

Millions at risk if NJ chemical plants leak

By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Millions of residents of the
central U.S. East Coast are at risk of death or injury from
release of toxic chemicals because of lax security at chemical
plants in New Jersey, a study released on Tuesday said.

New Jersey has 110 plants that could release
life-threatening chemicals into the environment in "worst-case
scenarios" developed by chemical manufacturers, such as
accidents or terrorist attacks, said the study by the New
Jersey Work Environment Council, an alliance of labor,
community and environmental organizations.

The study cites six facilities where a major chemical
release could kill or injure as many as 1 million people, and
another 15 facilities that could each affect 100,000 people.

A toxic release at one plant in northern New Jersey could
affect as many as 12 million people, including residents of New
York, and one in the South of the state could send a cloud of
deadly chlorine gas into Philadelphia, it said.

Elvin Montero, a spokesman for the Chemistry Council of New
Jersey, which represents chemical manufacturers, said the study
itself undermined security by releasing information about the
locations and activities of chemical manufacturers that has not
been widely available since the attacks of September 11.

He said the New Jersey chemical industry has spent more
than $100 million on security since the 2001 attacks and is
satisfied with security measures.

The group behind the study called upon the administration
of New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine to conduct a thorough assessment
of chemical industry vulnerabilities and impose mandatory
security standards on the chemical industry rather than relying
on the current voluntary guidelines.

The study, which claims to be the first to use data filed
by chemical manufacturers with state and federal regulators,
argues that additional security is needed to stop chemical
plants being used as weapons by terrorists.

"We don't have a cohesive national strategy to protect
these potential weapons of mass destruction where it is
practical and feasible to do so," said Paul Orum, a consultant
on the project.

Anthony Coley, a spokesman for the governor, said the
administration accepts that tougher security is needed at the
state's chemical plants.

"New Jersey has led the way on the security of chemical
plants, but the governor will not rest on past successes," he