30 May 2002 22:36 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--Legislation introduced Thursday in the US Senate seeks to prevent terrorists from obtaining virtual blueprints for attacks on chemical plants by accessing publicly available government mandated reports from chemical manufacturers.
"Communities have a right to prevent terrorists from using government information to target and attack chemical facilities in their backyards," said Senator Christopher Bond (Republican-Missouri) as he introduced the Community Protection from Chemical Terrorism Act.
"After the terrible tragedy of 11 September, we must be even more vigilant not to help terrorists exploit and harm our vulnerable communities," Bond said.
Federal law requires 15 000 chemical plants across the country to estimate their worst-case scenario accident and send a report describing the conditions under which such an accident could occur to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
EPA also is required to make these reports, known as off-site consequence analysis (OCA), available to the public.
OCA reports include the names of chemicals, the conditions under which a release would occur, the distance a toxic cloud would travel, the number of people who might be hurt by a release, and specific targets that would be affected, such as hospitals or schools.
According to EPA, at least 123 plants each keep sufficient amounts of chemicals that, if released, could form a deadly vapour cloud that would put more than 1m people in danger.
Bond's bill would allow the government to continue to collect OCA information for official emergency and disaster response activities. But the public would be allowed to view only a limited form of the data, with specific facility names and addresses withheld.
The bill also would make it a crime for anyone with access to detailed OCA information to disclose it. Bond said these measures would prevent terrorists from using OCA data to target specific communities.
Chemical facilities are "exactly the type of targets terrorists would attack to create mayhem and destruction," said Bond, noting that many such facilities exist in highly populated areas where a chemical release could result in mass casualties and widespread destruction.
He said an OCA report submitted by an unidentified Kansas City plant shows that 85 000 Missourians would be seriously affected by a chlorine release forming a toxic cloud over a 14 mile area.
"And yet we have current law making public precisely the type of factors that a terrorist would weigh when planning an attack," Bond said. "We must protect out communities from attack."
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