Shipping Chlorine Gas Could Pose a Potential Terrorist Target

Recently, there was a report released from the research group Center for American Progress (CAP) that stated that chlorine used by water treatment municipalities could be linked to a national security threat. The report that was released noted that a single leak on a rail car transporting chlorine gas in the Dallas-Fort Worth area could place the health of nearly 10 million people at risk. This problem should come as no surprise to the residents of Jefferson County due to the rail car derailment this year that forced the evacuation of 34 homes in the area and also put advisories out to drivers who were traveling in the area.

The CAP report, “Toxic Trains and the Terrorist Threat,” reviewed 62 drinking and wastewater treatment facilities throughout the country. The report did praise the facilities that produced their own chlorine on-site, which cuts out the need for rail shipments.  Other chlorine critics have pointed to the fact that no matter where it was produced and stored, the toxic gas poses a serious health and safety risk for the people at the plant and in the community.  The report also stated there are approximately 100 water treatment plants across the United States that store enough chemicals to harm up to 100,000 people.

Many of the utilities have a very good reason why they have not switched from the use of chlorine gas. COST! Chlorine is the most commonly used disinfectants for water disinfection. Chlorine can be applied for the deactivation of most microorganisms.  Chlorine kills pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, by breaking the chemical bonds in their molecules. Disinfectants that are used for this purpose consist of chlorine compounds, which can exchange atoms with other compounds, such as enzymes in bacteria and other cells.

There are many alternative disinfection techniques on the market today. The most common is ultraviolet (UV) irradiation. This process uses UV light to kill the microorganisms in water that can pose a public health risk. The upfront cost of a UV system to a facility can be large, but in the long run, the system can pay for itself due to the reduction of cost chlorine use/cost.

Whatever the type of disinfection techniques that a facility decides to use, the risks involved must be considered, due to the risks involved. The Operator Certification program will conduct a continuing education course on March 26 and 27, covering alternative disinfection techniques that can be used at facilities. For more information about the CAP report, please go to the Center for American Progress website at, and if you would like to know more about the continuing education course, visit the Division of Compliance Assistance website at or by clicking here.

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