US chems dismiss safer tech as security demand

21 November 2008 19:41  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US chemical industry officials on Friday dismissed an environmental group’s demand for inherently safer technology (IST) as a security mandate at chemical plants, saying such measures are neither needed nor appropriate.


The Center for American Progress (CAP) issued a study earlier this week charging that as many as 300 US chemical facilities should be ordered by federal authorities to make changes in feedstock, processing or output in order to reduce those plants’ appeal as possible targets for terrorist attacks.


CAP’s call for a federal IST mandate for chemical facilities is seen as having particular weight because the center was founded and is headed by John Podesta, the former White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration who now leads the transition team for President-elect Barack Obama.


Legislation now pending in the US Congress to replace existing federal authority over antiterrorism security at high-risk chemical facilities includes a provision that would allow federal regulators to dictate feedstock and process decisions.


That bill will be introduced again when the new 111th Congress convenes in January, but it is not certain that its IST provision will survive.


Jim Cooper, vice president for petrochemicals at the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), said the CAP study is “grasping at straws, and they’re getting desperate to find examples of what can be done with IST”.


“IST was born in the chemicals industry, it’s an engineering discipline, but it is being mis-used by interest groups as a guide for product substitution,” Cooper said.  He said he hopes that when Congress gives final consideration next year to a new law to replace the existing site security standards that “people will look at this issue on its technical, scientific merits and make the appropriate judgement”.


Bill Allmond, director of government relations at the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), noted that in 1998 when federal authorities sought to disclose worst-case scenario data for chemical plants on the Internet, environmentalists accused industry of over-stating concerns about the security risks posed by having such data broadly disclosed.


“Now they say that chemical plants are significant terrorist targets and need to do more to secure their facilities,” Allmond said.  He said that no major US security agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has urged inherently safer technology as a plant security measure.


In addition, said Allmond, “most of the facilities cited in the CAP report are petroleum refineries and utilities using or storing chemicals, such as water or sewer treatment plants”.


“The vast majority of them are not traditional chemical manufacturing facilities,” Allmond added.  “For this report to classify refineries and treatment plants as ‘chemical facilities’ is misleading.”


“Lastly, the report ignores the high importance placed on developing safe products, which is inherent in the manufacture of chemicals,” Allmond said.  “The philosophy and continued use of inherently safer technologies was invented by the chemical industry.”


“However, for the government to mandate it as a security measure endangers the purpose for which IST is intended,” Allmond said.


Scott Jensen, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), noted that industry wants to see a permanent, consistent set of site security rules, and he expressed confidence that Congress will recognize progress being made under the current rules - which have no requirement for an IST mandate.


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By: Joe Kamalick
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