US agency stresses chem partnership in safety regulations

24 March 2009 16:45  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Chemical companies should regard the existing Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards  (CFATS) as an on-going relationship and not simply as annual paperwork, an executive from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Tuesday.

"We did not intend for CFATS to ever be a once-a-year, notification programme," said Sue Armstrong, director of the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division for the DHS. She was speaking at the American Chemistry Council's (ACC) annual ChemSecure Conference in Houston.

"We are not a one size fits all programme. The intent of our sessions is for companies to give us their solutions," she said.

"This is a flexible approach to improving the overall security to an industry vital to the nation's economy," she said.

A day after leading chemical security executives expressed fear that CFATS restrictions could be made more stringent when the three-year sunset provision expires on 1 October, Armstrong stressed the importance of a cooperative relationship between the industry and the US government.

Moreover, she said chemical companies had more input on future programme provisions than they may currently realise.

"I don't want you hearing from me once a year with a letter on whether or not you're in compliance," Armstrong said. "We want to help you and work with you. We realise for some of the industry this is pretty new, but we're from the government and we're just here to help."

To that end, she said the government was "aggressively hiring" new inspectors to work with programme requirements.

Armstrong said her goal was to have at least 40 new inspectors by June, send them to a chemical service academy in the summer and have them ready to help with security vulnerability assessments for companies in the fall.

"We know this will take a large effort to work successfully, and we are dealing with the challenge head-on by hiring and training a proper workforce to make this work," Armstrong said.

Armstrong said that the government inspectors would work independently from local inspectors currently employed by chemical companies, leaving some security executives concerned that long-standing consulting relationships could be devalued.

However, Armstrong said that made the importance of developing a working relationship all the more important, adding that local inspectors would still be necessary for plants not governed by the CFATS legislation.

"There are 30,000 high-risk chemical facilities in the US and only about 6,500 are covered by CFATS," she said. "Someone has to cover the others."

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By: Ben DuBose
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