Chemical sector warns against US disclosure of secret site data

21 February 2012 23:11  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US chemicals industry officials on Tuesday warned that federal government plans to publish detailed information about site-specific locations of hazardous substances and related protective measures could invite terrorist attacks.

Industry trade groups and congressional leaders contend that plans by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to post on the Internet data about the quantity and specific on-site location of hazardous substances at some 13,000 US chemical production, storage and transit facilities would provide a “virtual terrorist roadmap” to anyone planning an attack.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said it is extremely concerned about EPA’s proposal to post the data, which would include plans by facility operators on how they would respond to a breach or other release of hazardous chemicals on their plant sites.

The council said EPA’s proposed release of “sensitive security information will undermine the efforts of our industry to protect our facilities, employees and communities”.

EPA said beginning in July 2012 it will post on its Internet page details provided to the agency by plant operators about possible on-site consequences of a release of hazardous substances.

Under the EPA’s risk management plan (RMP) requirement, chemical production, storage and transit facilities must provide detailed information about possible worst-case and more moderate consequences of a release of highly toxic substances from their sites.

The risk management plans must include an off-site consequence analysis (OCA).  That analysis describes possible downwind spread of a toxic substance and how many neighbourhoods, schools, hospitals and residents might be affected.

The RMPs also must include what EPA calls a “non-off-site consequence analysis” – what otherwise might be termed an analysis of an on-site breach of storage tanks or production vessels whose consequences do not reach beyond the facility’s property.

It is those on-site hazard details that EPA wants to post on the Internet, in order to provide more specific information to federal, state and local regulators, and to fire and police departments and other first-responders.

But the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) said EPA disclosure of that information could be dangerous.

“We believe that, in this case, security interests outweigh a public’s right to know about the information targeted for public disclosure via the Web,” SOCMA said, adding that its member firms already share such site-specific details with local first-responders as part of the group’s ChemStewards environmental and safety programme.

EPA’s plan to disclose the site-specific hazards data also is opposed by key leaders in the US House of Representatives, who warned in a letter to EPA that public disclosure of those details would constitute “a virtual terrorist roadmap into a chemical facility”.

EPA said on Tuesday that it is reviewing the congressional letter and would “respond as appropriate”.

By: Joe Kamalick
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