Chemical Threats Close To Cities?

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue hazardous material technicians walk to a decon area after plugging a one-ton chlorine cylinder, that was leaking at Allied Universal Corporation in Miami, March 4, 2004.
Experts call it one of the worst-case scenarios in a terror attack: a cloud of lung-melting gas or a toxic fireball ripping though a U.S. city. Potential casualties: 1 million or more.

At least 100 chemical plants nationwide could be targeted to produce such devastation, according to congressional researchers in a report that was to be released Wednesday.

The tally of plants possessing large amounts of 140 toxic and flammable chemicals was compiled by the Congressional Research Service using Environmental Protection Agency data from May, the most recent available. It represents one of the first public state-by-state breakdowns of how close potentially deadly facilities are located to the nation's largest population centers.

"Chemical facilities are at the top of the terrorists' target list, and I thought it would be helpful for the full picture to be presented," Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in an interview Tuesday.

The survey provided state-by-state figures but did not specify the names of the facilities or the cities in which they are located. However, researchers called it "unlikely" that the entire population would be affected by a single chemical release.

A 2003 database compiled by environmental watchdog groups said chemical facilities near major American population centers include the AMVAC America plant in Los Angeles, the Infineum USA Bayway Chemical Plant in northern New Jersey, and six plants that store chlorine and sulfur dioxide in Houston.

The EPA refuses to release its own list of detailed locations of the chemical manufacturing plants, oil refineries and storage facilities for fear doing so could aid terror plans. Environmental watchdog groups have compiled incomplete or outdated tallies of chemical facilities.