"The risk is just being passed along," Cynamon said. "Nothing's changed. ... The problem is the supply chain -- it's passing risk on a few miles away."
'It all sounds real good on paper'
Not everyone agrees that stronger mandates are the way to go, and some dissenters say water purification is complicated and chlorine is used for a variety of purposes other than water.
Industry representatives say they are complying with current Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), and that the safer technology language in the bill would require federally mandated technologies on facilities about which the government knows less than the industry.
"The current CFATS are, we feel, really good," bleach manufacturer Palmer said. "We're not so sure with ... the idea of inherently safer technologies."
Palmer's Allied New Technologies has seven plants that use the traditional bleach-making method and is planning a new plant using the salt-to-bleach method. Palmer said it would be the largest such facility in North America.
"We're going to be looking at how well this works and potentially doing it at other plants at other areas in the United States," Palmer said. "Like anything else, it all sounds real good on paper, but we want to run the plant for a while. Being an essential service, we can't assume everything's going to work real well."
The new plant is possible because the company has a large customer base that can absorb the upfront capital costs, which can make it impossible for some facilities that do not have a steady base, Palmer said.
"It's a huge capital investment," Palmer said.
And building a plant that can turn salt and water into bleach is complicated. "It sounds really great [to use safer technologies]," Palmer said, "but if the plant goes down and the community doesn't have safe drinking water, how safe is the community?"
Decisions about switching from chlorine depend on risk-versus-return analyses, Palmer said. An isolated facility, for example, poses a much lower risk when chlorine is shipped in than does a plant in a city, he said.
There are other approaches being taken to minimize the risk of chlorine shipments. Olin Corp., a major producer of industrial bleach that uses the salt-to-bleach technology, announced plans last month to have rail cars specifically designed to carry bleach by the end of next year.