Thompson largely wrong on chemical plant safety

(Regarding op-ed, “Bill would protect chemical plants,” by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., in “Special Report: Homeland Security,” Oct. 28.) We agree with Rep. Thompson that now is time to pass a permanent chemical security law that continues to build on the collaborative relationship between the Department of Homeland Security and our industry to protect against terrorism.

However, DHS’s mandate is to secure the assets at these facilities, not substitute or replace them, as the congressman suggests. If proponents for government-mandated product substitution get their way, a shortage or elimination of common products, like ibuprofen, could become reality.

Switching to alternative substances would also increase our reliance on foreign-made drugs, as American companies become barred from manufacturing pharmaceutical ingredients that customers will still demand.  Such a result would actually make the U.S. much less safe and secure, and cost American jobs. Suddenly, this legislation becomes a consumer and job safety issue as well.

The congressman does not mention the fact that DHS has repeatedly stated that there is no known credible threat against chemical plants. Additionally, to date, no federal security or intelligence agency publicly shares his view that substitution is the silver bullet to protecting chemical plants against terrorism. Further, experts in process safety have repeatedly testified in Congress against mandating inherently safer technology, mostly because of its complexity and the inability to measure it.

We urge Congress to put aside partisan differences and simply extend the existing Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, which has already driven some facilities to make important process changes. The unintended consequences of mandating product substitution are simply too risky for the U.S. to accept today.

From Bill Allmond, vice president, Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, Washington