Environmental Groups Warn of Chemical Threat to Obama Train

Two environmental groups are warning that terrorists could use industrial chemical plants or cargo as a weapon against the train carrying President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden from Philadelphia to Washington on Jan. 17, Environment and Energy reported yesterday (see GSN, Dec. 16, 2008).

The train is expected to pass near chemical storage sites and operational plants that are considered vulnerable to possible acts of terrorism, according to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Trains and trucks used to ship potentially dangerous chemicals also move along the same route, the groups said.

"Our main focus here is how such a poison gas attack from nearby chemical cargoes or chemical facilities could harm the president-elect's train entourage," they stated in a December letter to the Secret Service.

Chlorine released from one rail car could create a lethal cloud capable of reaching four miles in width and causing deaths up to 15 miles downwind, according to the letter.

The Homeland and Transportation departments should for a brief period take highly dangerous chemical materials off the rail line between the two cities, according to the organizations. On-site chemical storage at plants should be reduced and high-pressure operations should be temporarily suspended to ensure the presidential train remains safe, they argued.

"You don't have to hit the president to have enormous impact," said hazardous materials expert Fred Millar, a consultant with Friends of the Earth. "If you let loose a big toxic gas cloud, the Secret Service can no doubt protect the president, but what about the rest of the city?"

Trains carrying chemical materials considered to be particularly dangerous were taken off railways following the Sept. 11 attacks, and have been rerouted for large-scale events such as the Democratic National Convention held in Denver last summer, E&E; reported.

"Railroads have in the past worked closely with the [Transportation Security Administration] and Department of Homeland Security when major events have taken place," said Tom White, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads. "They have in fact at Super Bowls rerouted stuff and at other major public events" (Sara Goodman, Environment and Energy, Jan. 6).

January 7, 2009
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Two environmental groups are warning that terrorists could use industrial chemical plants or cargo as a weapon against the train carrying President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden from Philadelphia to Washington on Jan. 17, Environment and Energy reported yesterday (see GSN, Dec. 16, 2008).