Obama advisor urges safer technology on chemicals

19 November 2008 19:59  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Some 300 US chemical facilities should be required to switch to less toxic feedstocks, processes or products as a matter of national security, a policy group with close ties to President-elect Barack Obama said on Wednesday.


The Center for American Progress (CAP) issued a report on the public security and safety risks posed by chemical plants, refineries and water-treatment facilities in or near major municipalities.


The report, “Chemical Security 101,” argues that legislation now pending in the US Congress to update federal antiterrorism security requirements at high-risk chemical facilities should include a broad mandate for use of inherently safer technologies (IST).


The report is seen as particularly significant because CAP was founded and is headed by John Podesta, the former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton who now leads the transition team for President-elect Barack Obama.


Podesta is believed to have considerable influence over appointments that Obama will make to key federal agencies and departments, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).


He also might end up in a prominent position in the Obama administration.


Under existing regulations, DHS has authority to set antiterrorism security standards at high-risk US chemical facilities. Those regulations, the Chemical Facility AntiTerrorism Standards, will expire in late 2009 unless Congress renews them or enacts a replacement statute.


Replacement legislation now pending in Congress and likely to be voted on early next year would give the department authority to order changes in feedstock, processes or output as part of security measures at high-risk chemical plants.


The CAP report says that instead of being one factor in chemical facility security - along with better fencing, cameras and guards - inherently safer technology requirements should form the core of plant site security regulations.


“Congress should establish a comprehensive chemical security programme rooted in identifying, developing and leveraging the use of safer and more secure technologies,” the report recommends.


In particular, CAP said that in revising the existing regulations Congress should “require chemical facilities to assess and use feasible alternatives that reduce the potential harm of a terrorist attack”.


The report also urges stronger monitoring of chemical facilities by federal and state officials, recommending in particular that state security agencies should be allowed to set higher standards for high-risk plants than those required by federal agencies.


CAP also recommends that Congress and enforcing agencies should give no special compliance consideration to those facilities that operate under voluntary industry security programmes.


US chemical industry trade associations had no immediate response on Wednesday to the CAP report.


To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Joe Kamalick
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