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Realizing Chemical Site Security Is Not As Easy as I-S-T

Congress can easily make permanent the authority for existing chemical site security regulations, which are rigorous, enforceable, and protective of the American public. In 2006, Congress passed the FY2007 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which gave DHS the authority to develop the comprehensive, risk-based program by which the industry is bound today. Our organization, the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), is proud to be a long-standing supporter of this program, known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act Standards (CFATS). The chemical industry is well along in implementing this robust security regime, which includes 19 risk-based performance standards to harden facilities and their assets against attack. SOCMA believes that the three-year “sunset” on the authority for this program needs to be lifted so that it will become permanent.

Maintaining the integrity of these standards is in jeopardy, however. Recently, fears have been raised about aggressive campaigns by NGOs and special interests groups to shift Congress’s focus from securing our industry against terrorism to phasing out legitimate products that improve our daily lives.

Recurring proposals by NGOs to mandate “inherently safer technology” (IST) would fundamentally change the way chemical site security is achieved within the federal regulatory system.  Most significantly, these NGOs are calling for a hazard-based approach, derived from environmental laws like the European Union’s REACH regulation, that is entirely unlike the risk-based approach being implemented today to protect facilities against attack.  Fundamentally, NGOs claim a chemical is “safer” anytime their suggested alternative may have less off-site impact in the case of a worst-case scenario release. This is a very narrow, if not naïve, view of how the hazards in a chemical manufacturing process should be assessed.  A fuller understanding of the costs and benefits of forced substitution shows that it can create dangerous consequences.

IST is a conceptual and often complex framework that covers procedures, equipment, protection and, when feasible, the use of less hazardous chemicals. Its premise is that if a particular hazard can be reduced, the overall risk associated with a chemical process will also be reduced. In its simplicity, it is an elegant concept; however, reality is not always simple. A reduction in hazard will reduce overall risk if, and only if, that hazard is not displaced to another time or location, or does not magnify another hazard. If the hazard is displaced, then the risk will be transferred or increased, not reduced.

Below are several examples of how factors related to likelihood affect overall risk when attempts are made to reduce hazard:
·    Eliminating the use of a hazardous catalyst
A chemical company wants to eliminate the use of a hazardous catalyst, which is typically used in small amounts. The catalyst serves as a booster to start a chemical reaction to make a building block for a drug used to treat cancer. The chemical reaction needs a boost to start, so the company must supply an alternate source of energy to the system. Catalysts tend to be hazardous by nature, which reduces the number of available alternatives. The only other way the company can initiate the reaction without using a hazardous chemical is to increase the temperature and pressure of the system. The overall risk of the system, posed by increasing the temperature and pressure, may actually be greater than the risk associated with the catalyst, because catalysts are used in small amounts and the likelihood of an accident is remote.
·    Reducing the amount of a chemical stored on site
A manufacturing plant is considering a reduction in the volume of a particular chemical stored on site. The chemical is used to manufacture a critical nylon additive, which is sold to another company and used to make seat belts stronger. Because it is a critical component for nylon strength and seatbelt production cannot be disrupted, the production schedule cannot change. If the amount stored on site is reduced, the only way to maintain the production schedule is to increase the number of shipments to the site. This leads to more deliveries (an increase in transportation risk), more transfers of chemical from one container to another (an increase in transfer risk); and, since there is now a greater chance that production could be disrupted by a late shipment, there is an increase in economic risk. This analysis only accounts for the risk to the manufacturer and does not include the risk to the customer making the seat belts.
·    How location and individual circumstance affect risk perception
It is difficult to think of a scenario in which moving a hazard does not result in a simple transfer of risk from one location to another. For example, location can highlight different risk perspectives, such as the use of chlorine, a hazardous gas that comes in various types of containers. A common example used compares the inherent safety of a rail car, which typically holds up to 90 tons, versus storage in one-ton cylinders. Neighbors near the facility would probably view the one-ton cylinder as inherently safer than a rail car. On the other hand, workers who have to connect and disconnect the cylinders 90 times, instead of just once for the rail car, would probably consider the rail car inherently safer.
In science, risk is dependent on the circumstances and surroundings of a hazard. A simple reduction in hazard will not necessarily result in a reduction of overall risk. IST decisions should be based on risk, not inherent hazards.
For more information about appropriately achieving chemical site security, please visit

Tags Actuarial science Chemical warfare Contact Details Dangerous goods Disaster Emergency management Prevention Product Issues Risk Safety Security

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