PHIL

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CHLORINE AND RISK

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FAIRY-TALE

Chlorine manufacturing, transport and use causes 52 victims a day

Greenpeace leaflet 'Chlorine is everywhere' (in Dutch) - summer 1994.

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FACTS AND FIGURES

The 'victims'

Greenpeace uses a special 'greenspeak' meaning of the word 'victim'. They even counted people who had to be temporary evacuated for fires that were in a chlorine factory, but which had nothing to do with chlorine. In fact Greenpeace Netherlands uses this meaning of 'victim', while the original work of Greenpeace International uses the word 'affected' people, which is a little more true in this case.
According to the Greenpeace International report 'Chlorine Kills' 1994 [19], all together 227 people died by production, transport, industrial and municipal use of chlorine in the last hundred years all over the world.
Greenpeace 'forgets' to mention that there are much more killed and heavily wounded people by the manufacturing, transport and use of the alternatives for chlorine.
Not using chlorine can give many more victims than the use of chlorine for any kind of application (except military). Omitting chlorine in the disinfecting of drinking water of Peru made from a beginning cholera epidemic a disaster. Twenty thousand people died already and more than two hundred thousand had the disease.


A SCIENTIFIC DEFINITION OF RISK

The scientific definition of risk is:

       RISK = POSSIBILITY x CONSEQUENCES

Let us give an example:
There are lots of collisions between cars every day, but in only a few cases some people are killed. When a collision happens between two trains, hundreds of people can be killed at once. In practice, taking the train is a much lower risk than traveling by car, because the possibility of a collision between two trains is much lower than for two cars. Of course, the railroad companies, the car manufacturers and the government are trying to reduce the risk of traveling. That can be done by reducing the possibility of collisions by technical means (e.g. traffic lights, speed control, automatic breaks) or by reducing the consequences (airbags, safety belts).

The same is true for chlorine and alternatives. If chlorine is transported in bulk amounts, this is done by train, during night, at low speed, to reduce the risk. The results are very good: no one was killed in bulk transportation of chlorine in Europe in the past fifty years. Of course, that doesn't mean that there is no risk, but the risk is quite low.

For the Benelux (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg together) we have figures for chlorine, PVC and alternatives, also over the last fifty years:
Nobody was killed by the manufacturing, transport or use of bulk quantities of chlorine. Two people died from cancer, caused by inhalation of large quantities of VCM in PVC-factories, before it was recognised that VCM was a carcinogen and the appropriate measures were taken. Six people died in a road accident with propylene (raw material for PP - polypropylene), six in a road accident with butadiene (raw material for synthetic rubber) and twenty-one by explosions in ethylene and polyethylene plants. Which plastic manufacturing causes the lowest risk? In fact, all plastics are manufactured in factories where high safety standards are maintained and the risk is low compared with almost all other occupations:

Fatal accident rate
number of expected fatalities per 100 million exposed hours:

Fatal accident rate
OCCUPATIONAL:
Chemical industry: 3.5
Farming: 10.0
Fishing: 35.0
Construction: 67.0
CHOICE:
Home accidents: 3
Car travel: 57
Skiing: 71
Air travel: 240
Source: UK Accidental fatality statistics

Although it seems that air travel has a higher fatal accident rate than car travel, this is not right. During one hour, an airplane flies about eight hundred km, while a car does average one hundred km in the same time. So, air travel is in fact safer than car travel for the same distance.


The risk at a PVC-factory

You may think that we are crazy to work in factories where they use known carcinogens like VCM and to a lesser extent DCE, the building block and intermediate for the manufacturing of PVC. We are not extra paid for risk, because we have less risk of premature dead than a lot of other occupations.

Comparison of death risk in one human lifetime:

Comparison of death risk in one human lifetime:
PVC-workers (cancer): 0.003%
PVC-workers (accident [*]): 0.08%
Metal workers (accident): 0.5%
Pilots (accident): 0.6%
Firemen: 3%
Miners (accident): 8%
Miners (silicosis): 25%
Source: Packaging and Ecology.
[*] calculated from the above statistics.


A POPULAR DEFINITION OF RISK

There is a lot of difference between what science defines as risk and what the general public feels to be risky.

The popular feeling of risk is:

              (FEARED) DANGER
      RISK = ------------------
             PROFIT x KNOWLEDGE

If you compare the dangers of air transports of any goods, the transport of petrol or LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) with the transport of chlorine, the consequences of an accident can be as bad, with several hundreds of victims. Although the risk of chlorine transport is lower than of petrol or LPG and also lower than for air transports, because of lower possibility, the 'feeling' of the general public is that transporting chlorine is much more dangerous than of the others. If there is an airplane crash, only a few people will not start a planned holiday by plane the next day. When a lorry with petrol or LPG crashes and explodes with hundreds of deaths, nobody will stop tanking petrol the next days. But what will happen when someday chlorine will leak out of a train and kill a lot of people? Most people will ask for the closing down of all chlorine factories...

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THE ALTERNATIVES

If we may believe the Greenpeace International report 'Chlorine Kills' 1994 [19], all together 227 people died by production, transport, industrial and municipal use of chlorine. This figure is the total for the past hundred years all over the world. For Greenpeace one of the reasons to stop all chlorine production and use.
Compare this with the production and use of petrol products: in only two accidents there were already more people killed:
An explosion on the Piper Alpha oil platform in the North Sea killed over 150 workers.
A road accident at Los Alfaques in Spain, followed with an explosion of the road tank filled with propylene, raw material for polypropylene (PP), killed 216 people at a nearby camping.
For Greenpeace no reason to ask for the end of oil exploration or a ban on chlorine-free plastics!


CONCLUSION

There is no reason to treat the risk of chlorinated chemicals different from non-chlorinated. There is no reason at all to accuse chlorine in general to give more risk than other industrial activities.

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You are at level one of the Chlorophiles pages.

Created: March 10, 1996.
Last update: May 2, 1998.

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