They are just pieces of cardboard, and they cover less than a square foot on the side of railroad tank car. But behind them lies a post-9/11 competition between public safety and national security.
For decades, emergency-response teams approaching train wrecks have peered at the signs through binoculars to see what dangerous chemicals might be leaking. But federal officials will soon decide on a proposal to remove the placards from all tank cars. Their fear is that terrorists could use them to lock in on targets for highly toxic attacks.
The idea has sparked an outcry from firefighters and rail workers, who say removing the signs could endanger their lives. They say federal officials seem more focused on guarding against a terrorist attack than on the daily threat of accidents.
"There's this feeling that you have to secure everything possible in every way possible for every possible kind of terrorist attack," Garry L. Briese, executive director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said.
The dispute illustrates a growing push to mask sensitive data about the nation's industrial base from the prying eyes of potential terrorists. In the tug of war over tank cars and other industrial information, critics question whether the move toward secrecy is overwhelming safety concerns and even chilling debates over how to eliminate the vulnerabilities.
People who live near chemical and nuclear plants, dams and oil and gas pipelines complain that it has become harder to find out about disaster plans and environmental hazards, and some have sued for more information. Engineering reports have been stripped from government Web sites, and several agencies are creating new controls on sensitive information that go far beyond the wide-ranging classification system built in the cold war.
Trying to keep information bottled up that can help people is always problematic; in this case it is more than obvious that the real threat is people not knowing there's a chemical hazard.
Yes, I take a risk flying on aircraft; effectively entrusting my life to the employees of the airlines. But, on the other hand, I want to know if there's a hazardous materials leakage, and quick.
And that's more important to me than a nebulous threat of terrorism cooked up by an administration that jimmied the "color alerts" to make Bush appear more "popular."
By the way, when's the last time they raised the terror alert? Did the terrorists just slink away? Are we to believe that we "smoked 'em out" or drove them so far underground that they're not doing anything?
Or...or... was this shit just made up by the Bush regime?