After more than a year of efforts in Congress, the Homeland Security Department was created without addressing the vulnerability of U.S. chemical plants to terrorism. Under pressure from the chemical industry lobby, a moderate chemical security bill was killed at the eleventh hour last year, leaving no federal program to prevent threats to U.S. chemical plants.
Since September 11, 2002 the Bush administration has failed to
take any action on the ability of terrorist to turn our chemical
plants into weapons of mass destruction. In May of last year, the
EPA considered legislation as well as new regulations but was
overruled. In October when Congress was running out of time, EPA
finally embraced the need for new legislation.
The EPA has identified more than 100 U.S. chemical facilities
that threaten a million or more local residents. According to the
Brookings Institute, U.S. chemical plants represent the third
highest risk of fatalities from possible terrorist attacks. The
Army Surgeon General estimated that 2.4 million people could be
killed or injured in an attack on an American chemical plant.
Adding guards and higher fences at chemical facilities will not
prevent attacks, but converting these facilities to using safer
On January 14th chemical security legislation (S. 157) was
re-introduced by Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) that would specifically
require the EPA to prioritize prevention plans for the worst
chemical threats. S. 157 is identical to the compromise bill that
was adopted by all the Republicans and Democrats on the Senate
Environment Committee in July 2002. However, more rapid action is
now needed to make up for the time lost since the September 11th
S. 157 attends to only stationary facilities, leaving the
transportation of hazardous substances completely unaddressed.
Although S. 157 gives credit to chemical facilities for acting
faster if they choose, they can take two and half years to submit
plans to prevent attacks. Even if this bill was fast-tracked and
signed by the President soon, the industry would have until 2006
just to develop their prevention plans. Implementation could take
Fortunately faster action is possible. Safer alternatives for
almost all of these chemicals are available today. In addition,
there are safer ways to use and store these chemicals while
conversion to safer technologies is implemented.
Within eight weeks following September 11th, Washington, DC's
main sewage treatment plant eliminated any terrorist threat by
ending the use of chlorine and switching to safer chemicals. This
success can and should be repeated in thousands of vulnerable
communities outside of Washington, DC.
In addition to strengthening U.S. laws, the EPA has authority
under the Clean Air Act to require chemical companies to take
action to prevent disasters. Unfortunately the EPA has disputed
this even though they agree that voluntary action by the chemical
industry is woefully inadequate.
For more information on chemical