US initiates anti-terror enforcement against 18 chemical sites

23 June 2010 21:30  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has initiated its first enforcement actions against US chemical facilities under federal anti-terrorism law, warning that they face fines for failing to comply, officials said on Wednesday.

Department spokesman Chris Ortman said that administrative orders had been sent to 18 unidentified facilities, warning that they must submit overdue site security plans in compliance with the federal Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).

Those regulations, which came into force in April 2007, require that certain chemical facilities - those deemed to be at high risk for possible attack by terrorists - must conduct assessments of their security vulnerabilities and submit to the department a formal site security plan designed to remedy shortcomings.

A facility’s site security plan must meet standards set by the department, but plant operators may select measures they prefer to satisfy the federal criteria in 18 areas, such as perimeter control, visitor access, personnel background checks, safeguards against theft or diversion of hazardous materials or in-house sabotage.

Ortman said the 18 facilities were previously given several reminders about their obligation to submit the security plans, and that the administrative orders sent this week represented the final step before the department would begin prosecution.

Under the law, DHS can assess fines of up to $25,000 (€20,250) per day for failure to comply.

In addition, the law gives the department authority to shut down a chemical facility if its owners fail to respond to DHS requirements for security improvements.

As many as 7,000 US chemical facilities - production sites, storage yards and terminals - initially qualified as high-risk sites, but that number had since been reduced to something over 6,000.

The high-risk facilities are divided into four tiers, based on the degree of risk posed by the volumes and types of chemicals used, produced or stored and a given site’s proximity to population centres.

Citing security reasons, the department declined to identify the 18 facilities or to indicate where they were located or what security risk tiers they occupied. Nor could officials say immediately what deadline the notified facilities must meet to avoid prosecution.

The US Congress is considering legislation that would expand and toughen CFATS regulations, which are set to expire at the end of September this year unless revised or extended.

($1 = €0.81)

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