(Host) Thousands of manufacturers around the country use hazardous chemicals and store them on site. But heightened concerns over terrorism have brought new attention to these operations.
As VPR’s John Dillon reports, even companies like Ben & Jerry’s have adopted stricter security measures.
(Sound of a cow bell, ding ding.) “All right, I’ll give you a little ring…. Welcome to Ben & Jerry’s!”
(Dillon) Ben & Jerry’s is one of Vermont’s most popular tourist spots. Terrorism is probably the last topic on anyone’s mind. On this day, the first tour of the morning has visitors from Ohio, California, and Florida lined up to see ice-cream making behind the scenes.
The first stop is the Cow over the Moon theater for a short film on Ben & Jerry’s history.
(Movie narration) “We’ve been looking forward to telling you the Ben & Jerry’s story. So sit back and relax… ’cause here we gooo!”
(Dillon) The Waterbury plant produces 180-thousand pints a day. As the tour guide explains, those delicious desserts have to be kept very cold.
(Tour guide) “It’s about 40 below, so you can imagine anything at that temperature for about two hours is going to come out frozen solid.”
(Dillon) Frozen solid by refrigeration that uses large quantities of ammonia. It’s the prime coolant for the giant freezers, but it’s also a hazardous substance. And it could be a possible target.
Because Ben & Jerry’s stores thousands of pounds of ammonia at its plants around Vermont, risk management plans are required by the federal government. The plans are designed to protect the public in case of an accident. But after the September terror attacks, security experts warned about the danger posed by the thousands of facilities around the country that store and use hazardous chemicals.
Carol Andress is with the Environmental Defense group in Washington. She says Ben & Jerry’s is on the federal list of Vermont companies that store chemicals on-site. According to Andress, any plant that’s on the list could be a potential terrorist target. Also on the list are wastewater treatment plants that use chlorine. Still, Andress doubts the Vermont operations are in much danger:
(Andress) “Clearly the facilities in Vermont… are not as significant as some of these other facilities. We have, oh gosh, 125 facilities that could each affect one million people or more. On the other hand, to the extent that … Ben & Jerry’s can easily switch away from ammonia, or some of the wastewater treatment plants can easily switch away from gaseous chlorine, it seems like a no-brainer.”
(Dillon) Andress also supports legislation introduced by Vermont Senator James Jeffords that would require new security measures for chemical facilities. The bill also encourages companies to use less-dangerous alternatives, both to reduce pollution and to lower the terrorism risk.
(Andress) “The fact is, these facilities by substituting chemicals, by redesigning processes, by making them safer from terrorists, they’re also making them safer from a chemical accident. So there’s a win here for everyone.”
(Dillon) Ben & Jerry’s has increased security since September. Operations Director Scott McCreary says that visitors aren’t allowed near the chemical storage area.
(McCreary) Since September 11, what we’ve done is just increase all our security programs at each of our sites, to make sure that non-employees don’t have access to the sites, to make sure that employees that do work at those sites only have access to those areas they work in, so that our ammonia systems … and controls systems are all secure.”
(Dillon) But McCreary says the company will continue to use ammonia for refrigeration because it’s actually less polluting than the alternatives, which include gases that contribute to global warming or could damage the ozone layer.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Waterbury.