20 June 2002 19:58 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--Millions of Americans are at risk from a terrorist attack or accident at sites that produce, use, or store hazardous chemicals, and federal legislation is needed to reduce the danger, activists charged Thursday.
At a news conference here today, environmentalists and public health advocates called on Congress to pass a controversial bill that would require chemicals plants to reduce potential hazards by adopting "inherently safer technologies," such as using less hazardous chemicals and procedures in manufacturing processes.
"It's clear that congressional action on the Chemical Security Act is urgently needed because of the urgency of the threat and because the effectiveness of the solution requires swift implementation," said Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate with the US Public Interest Research Group.
The security bill, sponsored by Senator Jon Corzine (Democrat-New Jersey), would require chemical companies to assess their vulnerability to potential terrorist attacks or other criminal acts, and then make process changes in order to operate in a safer manner.
The measure is strongly opposed by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other industry trade groups. They consider it unnecessary in light of their voluntary efforts to upgrade security.
But Corzine said: "Voluntary actions by a relatively small number of companies isn't going to solve the problem."
He noted that ACC members operate only 11% of the 15 000 facilities required to submit Risk Management Plans (RMPs) to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Because chemical plants are "inviting targets," Corzine said regulators need to consider the possibility of a successful terrorist attack and require the industry to take steps to reduce hazards and improve security.
He said: "Only legislation will provide a lasting and comprehensive response to the threat of terrorist attacks on chemical facilities."
In the event of an attack or accident, Corzine said EPA estimates that 123 US chemical facilities each potentially threaten a million or more residents.
He said more than 700 plants could put at least 100 000 people at risk and more than 3000 facilities have at least 10 000 people nearby.
Richard Levinson, associate executive director of the American Public Health Association, said: "The release of toxic chemicals, such as ammonia or chlorine, in a heavily populated area would have a devastating impact on public health."
He said exposure to these chemicals, which are widely produced and stored throughout the country, "would do irreversible damage."
Corzine's bill is scheduled for mark-up in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on 27 June.
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