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Senator Proposes to End Utilities' Chlorine Use

Most of us associate chlorine with clean water.

But it's a highly toxic chemical that terrorists have recently been using in Iraq to kill innocent civilians.

Now, one lawmaker says it's time to do something before large stockpiles of chlorine right here in Middle Tennessee become toxic targets.

And state Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, asked our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams to show him the problem.

"Here you get a perspective how close we are," Williams tells Jackson.

"My goodness," the senator responds.

Jackson wanted to see for himself just what we had discovered last fall: 90-ton railroad tank cars filled with the highly poisonous gases -- chlorine and sulfur dioxide.

"Since you did your original story, what changes have they made?" Jackson asks.

"Nothing," Williams answers.

"It's exactly the way it was?"

"Exactly."

"Wow."

On this day, Williams notes,  "The wind is blowing directly toward the city right now."

As the view from Sky 5 shows, it's located at Metro's sewage treatment just north of downtown Nashville and the state Capitol.

That despite warnings from homeland security officials that such chlorine tankers could be struck by terrorists as a way to attack an American city.

Jackson observes, "Frankly, I could toss a rock to these tankers so there's no security here -- nothing that's going to stop a terrorist attack."

The senator says he's also concerned about what could happen to those chemicals on the way here.

Last fall, just in the shadow of the state Capitol, we spotted this chlorine tanker sitting unattended for hours.

"Instead of ignoring it and whispering about it being a problem and being afraid to discuss it for fear that that might inform the enemy, we have to assume the enemy is smart enough to figure this out," Jackson adds.

Under legislation that Jackson has drafted:

  • Water utilities would be prohibited from installing any new systems using chlorine as a disinfectant.
  • They'd also be required to begin transitioning older systems to a less dangerous method, such as bleach or ultraviolet radiation.
  • At some point, the use of chlorine by such systems would be completely outlawed.

"Many cities around the country have transitioned away from the use of chlorine, and it's been very, very cost effective -- and they are using methods that pose no risk to the public whatsoever."

But Metro Water Services director Scott Potter has questioned the urgency of taking such measures.

"Metro Water Services has used chlorine safely for almost 50 years without incident," he told Phil Williams last fall.

However, Jackson questions why there isn't more urgency.

"If the department of homeland security has identified this as a potential target for terrorists and there's a cost effective way to get away from using chlorine, why not do it."

Jackson says he'll soon present his bill in committee.

As to its chances, he says he expects stiff opposition from the state's utilities.

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