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March 18, 2002
Volume 80, Number 11
CENEAR 80 11 p. 8
ISSN 0009-2347
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Worst-Case Scenario For Chemical Plant Attack


A slide presentation prepared by a medical officer in the Army Surgeon General's Office concludes that a terrorist attack on a U.S. chemical plant in an urban area could result in millions of casualties. This worst-case scenario was presented at a governmental staff meeting last fall, but reported by the Washington Post just last week.

The aim of the meeting, held two months after Sept. 11, 2001, was to develop casualty estimate methodologies and medical responses to a terrorist attack, says Lyn Kukral, a spokeswoman in the Surgeon General's Office.

The Post pegged the worst-case scenario at up to 2.4 million people killed or injured--close to the number estimated by chemical companies themselves. Kukral couldn't confirm with the medical officer, who was out of the country, how this number was derived. But she tells C&EN, "The number is probably based on an actual worst-case analysis done by an office in the U.S. Army Medical Command," of which the surgeon general is a part.

Also not confirmable is a midrange casualty estimate of 903,400 from an explosion at a chemical plant that the Post quotes from the slide presentation. Again, Kukral believes this number was "developed by one of our offices" and is not derived from data developed under EPA risk management plans.

Chris VandenHeuvel, an American Chemistry Council spokesman, says, "We don't know what the [Army] numbers are based on, so it is difficult for us to respond." However, he adds, the chemical industry "understands that it is an integral part of the nation's critical infrastructure and could be potentially targeted by terrorists. We need to do everything feasible we can to make our facilities as safe and secure as possible."

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