Council Members Want Answers About City's Toxic Target - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Council Members Want Answers About City's Toxic Target

(Story created: 11/14/06)

Another NewsChannel 5 investigation has Metro Council members asking whether the city's own water department may be putting your family at risk.

Tuesday, several members of the council's public safety committee told NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams that they plan to demand answers.

That follows a NewsChannel 5 investigation of Toxic Targets that raised questions about security at Metro's sewage treatment plant.

For decades, clean water has been synonymous with chlorine.

But, if released into the air, chlorine can also be a killer.

"Chlorine was the poison gas of choice in World War I," says homeland security consultant Fred Millar.

"It was such a horrible killer, burning your lungs and you drown in your own fluid."

That's why homeland security experts have warned cities like Nashville that chlorine treatment facilities right in the middle of downtown could become targets for terrorists.

"How safe is it to have chlorine tankers located downtown?" Phil Williams asks Metro Water Services director Scott Potter.

"I think it's extraordinarily safe," Potter answers.

Millar says the chlorine tankers at the sewage treatment plan are "an enormous weapon that could attack your community."

But Millar says Metro has done little to shield these 90-ton tankers from attack, despite the potential for a catastrophic release.

"This kind of cargo -- just one of these tank cars -- can put out a cloud over your city 41 and a half miles long," Millar tells Williams.

"41 and a half miles long?" Williams asks.

"Now it won't kill people that far away.  But it could kill people 15 miles away and four miles wide."

Metro Water says there are almost a million people who live within a 25-mile radius who could be affected by a major chlorine release.

So who would be affected? It would depend upon the time of day and which way the wind was blowing.

If the wind blew out of the west, at night, it could spread over all of East Nashville in just the first 30 minutes, according to emergency response guides.

And if the wind blew out of the north, in that first 30 minutes, it would cover all of downtown Nashville, potentially shutting down many of the largest hospitals in the city.

That would come at a time when hospitals would be badly needed.

Nashville hasn't even followed the lead of some other cities in building hardened structures around their chlorine tankers sites.

"Many of these facilities now have these car barns on top of their tank cars to try to at least offer some additional protections to the people nearby in case everybody has to run for the hills," Millar says.

Potter says such a structure is in Metro Water's capital plan.

"As soon as its funded, we are going to do it," he adds.

"Have you asked for it to be funded?" Williams asks.

"No, sir."

Experts say Nashville could still have clean water -- and switch to less dangerous chemicals.

"If anybody tells me we are serious about homeland security, but yeah we bring chlorine tank cars and sulfur dioxide into our sewage treatment plant, I say you are not serious about security," Millar says. "You're not serious."

One council members says that, just because the city's been using chlorine for 50 years, it doesn't mean it can't change.


Background:

U.S. Homeland Security:
Al-Qaeda "targeting chemical, hazardous materials facilities" (November 2003)
"National Planning Scenarios" (April 2005)
U.S. Government Accountability Office:
"Securing Wastewater Facilities " (March 2006)
"Wastewater Facilities: Experts' Views" (January 2005)
Center for American Progress:
"Preventing Toxic Terrorism" (April 2006)
U.S. PIRG:
"Protecting Our Hometowns" (March 2002)

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