Chemical Industry Continues to Mislead the Public on Chemical Plant Security

by John Deans

December 22, 2010

You would think that almost ten years after 9/11 the chemical industry would be well on its way to making chemical plants safer for the surrounding communities. Instead they have continued to repeat misleading information, and avoid their duty to protect communities from poison gas disasters. In their latest communication, Lawrence Sloan, an executive for a lobby group called the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), whose members include Dow Chemical, wrote an opinion column in the Detroit Free Press calling on Congress to permanently handcuff the government’s ability to prevent chemical disasters.

SOCMA has been at the forefront of the chemical industry’s efforts to stall progress in Congress that would keep communities and workers safe from the catastrophic risks of a poison gas release from chemical and water treatment facilities. Lawrence Sloan’s commentary reflects a disturbing lack of concern about the chemical industry’s dangerous storage of poison gases like chlorine, and repeats some of the same misleading and distorted claims that SOCMA and other lobby groups have used while lobbying in Washington DC.

Current Chemical Security Rules

While Sloan says that the current regulation called CFATS is a “a strong chemical security regulatory program,” there are several areas where it falls short. First of all, this is based on a last-minute rider attached to a 2006 appropriations bill, not comprehensive legislation. Secondly it does not require facilities to assess their ability to use safer technologies and explicitly prevents the DHS from requiring facilities to convert if safer alternatives are available. Thirdly, what Sloan is not telling you is that port facilities and water treatment facilities are exempt from this program. This includes the most dangerous facility in the country as well as the largest chemical facility. These three factors alone make this law far too weak to protect the more than 100 million people at risk of a disaster.


Mr. Sloan makes misleading claims that somehow 40,000 chemical industry jobs are threatened in Michigan. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Greenpeace commissioned an independent analysis by Management Information Services, which showed that that legislation SOCMA is concerned about would in fact create 8,000 new jobs. Furthermore, in a chemical gas disaster, workers are hurt first and hurt worst, which is one of the reasons why many of the unions who represent those workers agree with Greenpeace. 

Making People Sick

The legislation the House of Representatives passed, but the Senate has so far failed to move, would require safer processes only where feasible. That makes Sloan’s claims of threatening medical supplies completely inaccurate. We’ve seen this rhetoric before – a SOCMA press release attempted to scare the public that the bill would impact the production of antibiotics to treat swine flu:

“…product substitution provisions in draft legislation would most likely compromise the quality of antibiotics that fight against threats such as the swine flu…”

This is absurd claim, especially since antibiotics are used to fight bacteria, not viruses like swine flu.

Real Action Needed

In Sloan’s last sentence he really brings it back to the core motivations of the chemical industry:

“We support the legislation proposed by Sen. Collins that does not include the safer-technology provision”

So, one of the lead representatives of the chemical industry is explicitly stating that chemical companies should not be obligated to use safer practices, could there be any better proof that they care more about profits for their executives than the safety of communities and workers?

We do agree with Sloan that this bill should be bipartisan, it’s absolutely shameful that not a single Republican in Congress voted to truly safeguard communities put at risk by the nation’s highest risk dangerous chemical facilities. There’s still some time in the next couple of days to take action on this and pass a bill as strong as the House did a year ago. It would be a compromise, but we need progress to protect communities around the country. If this nation sees a chemical disaster that could have been prevented by using safer processes, it will be the chemical industry and Congress who will be held responsible.


John Deans

By John Deans

As a former Arctic Campaigner, John worked with lawmakers, coalition partners, activists, and the media in Greenpeace's efforts to protect the Arctic from the dangers of industrial activity.

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