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Pulp and paper mills that use chlorine or chlorine dioxide to whiten paper needlessly endanger more than 5.7 million people, according to a new report released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
The report, Pulp Fiction: Chemical Hazard Reduction at Pulp and Paper Mills, identified 74 mills that endanger more than 5.7 million people by using chlorine or chlorine dioxide to bleach paper. In the event of a release, these two extremely hazardous substances have the potential to kill or seriously injure even at relatively low concentrations.
“We’ve moved chlorine gas, a chemical weapon, off the battlefield and into our communities,” said U.S. PIRG staff attorney Alex Fidis. “Fortunately, there are safer technologies available that pulp and paper mills can use to replace the extremely hazardous chemicals used to whiten paper.”
According to U.S. PIRG’s research, bleaching technologies that do not use dangerous chlorine or chlorine dioxide are widely available. For example, the totally chlorine-free (TCF) technology whitens paper with safer substances such as hydrogen peroxide or ozone. These safer technologies can eliminate or significantly reduce the consequences of a chemical release.
Accidents at chemical facilities have long threatened communities and workers. The realization that a terrorist could use an industrial facility as a make-shift chemical weapon has amplified concerns about extremely hazardous chemicals like chlorine and chlorine dioxide.
Based on these concerns, the National Research Council recently identified safer technologies as the most desirable solution to address chemical plant security. The Council stated that the most effective way to prevent chemical releases is to eliminate the hazard where possible.
“Today’s report demonstrates that safer technologies are possible,” said Fidis. “Some facilities have already reduced chemical hazards by switching to safer technologies, but many others are continuing with business as usual. To truly make our communities safe, chemical facilities must adopt safer technologies.”
Last summer, the House Homeland Security Committee passed a chemical security bill that incorporated safer technologies, but this bill was never brought to the House floor for a vote. Comparable legislation will likely be introduced again this year.
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