Chemical security criticised

Explosions at a chemical plant near the town of Apex, North Carolina, US, forced more than 17 000 people to evacuate their homes, in early October sparking further criticism that the government has not seriously addressed the issue of chemical plant security.  

The incident came just days after congress passed new legislation giving the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to regulate security measures. 

US chemical plants were branded easy targets after it emerged there had been no increase in security levels since the attacks on 11 September 2001.  

The cause of the Apex blaze is unknown but has not been linked to deliberate terrorist action. No deaths or serious injuries were reported, but more than a dozen people were treated for respiratory problems according to local reports. 

The new legislation has hit controversy, with claims that it does not go far enough to minimise the risks posed by chemical facilities. 

Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who formerly served as adviser to the US Commission on National Security, told the US news magazine Newsweek that with high volumes of deadly substances in US plants, it was amazing that the country had not seen more incidents like Apex. He went on to criticise the new legislation, saying he did not think it would make much of a difference. 

Scott Jensen, a spokesperson from the American Chemistry Council disagreed. He praised new partnership between the chemical industry and the DHS and told Chemistry World  that much of the criticism was based on environmental rather than security concerns.  

’It is incongruous to bring the environmental agenda into a debate about security,’ he said. ’The critics have focused their argument on getting rid of certain chemicals, some of which there may be no suitable alternative for. The point of this legislation is to properly manage the security risk posed by these substances.’  

The DHS are now developing guidelines under which chemical plants must operate, which will be finalised on 4 April 2007. 

Aesica buy Merck facility

UK active pharmaceutical ingredient supplier Aesica has bought a clinical manufacturing facility from Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) - the UK subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Merck. The facility, at Ponders End in North London, has the capacity to produce 300 tons of products per year.  

This sale is part of Merck’s global restructuring to focus its manufacturing on current and future products. All 74 employees at the Ponders End site will retain their jobs and transfer their employment to Aesica. 

Japan and Germany in drug development deal

Japanese and German pharmaceutical companies Daiichi and Evotec have signed a research collaboration deal. Selected teams of Evotec’s medicinal chemistry researchers will work on two programmes to develop Daiichi’s two most promising novel compounds with the aim of taking them to clinical trials.  

HSE launches Reach helpdesk

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched a helpdesk to provide support for UK businesses in the run up to the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (Reach) regulations, which could come into force as early as April 2007.  

Under the new regulations, companies who manufacture or import more than one tonne of a chemical substance per year would be required to register it in a central database. The aim is to provide environmental and health protection from hazardous substances by ensuring that the chemical industry is controlled.  

The helpdesk can be contacted on 0845 408 9575 or via email at  

BP invests in solar cells

BP Solar has signed a deal with the Institute for Crystal Growth (IKZ) in Berlin, to develop a process for the deposition of a silicon semiconductor layer on glass - a technique that could produce more cost-efficient solar cells. 

Solar cells are currently made from silicon wafers, around 0.2-0.25mm thick, but most of the photon conversion to electrical energy takes place only in the upper 0.02mm of the wafer. The new research collaboration will work towards the use of much thinner silicon films on a cheap, sustainable glass substrate. The IKZ technique which BP Solar hopes to develop involves depositing silicon grains and ’growing’ them into crystals in situ.  

Fireproof plastics

Ceram Polymerik has patented a new technology that transforms polymers and plastics into fireproof ceramics at high temperatures.  

’Ceramifiable’ technology uses a mixture of materials that can be added to polymer composites. During a fire the low melting point inorganic materials in the mixture act as fluxing agents and bind to fillers in the composite to form a solid or porous ceramic structure which is left behind when the polymer burns off.  

The technology has already been used for fire-resistant electric cables. 

Large-scale petrochemical  complex in Qatar

Qatar Petroleum and ExxonMobil Chemical have signed off the first step in establishing a joint venture to build a new $3 billion (?1.6 billion) petrochemical complex.  

The site at Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar will incorporate a 1.3 million tonnes per annum steam cracker and produce ethylene, low density polyethylene (LDPE) and ethylene glycol. It is estimated that production will start at the complex in 2012. 

Intertek opens new European Lab

The Oil, Gas and Chemicals Division of UK company Intertek has secured a five year contract to run Dutch chemical company DSM’s ’Polychemlab’ in Geleen, the Netherlands.  

The laboratory, now called ’Intertek Polychemlab’, will operate polymer and plastics testing, analysis and manufacturing for Intertek with all 175 technical staff transferring their jobs from DSM. 

eBay of science launched online

An internet service allowing buyers and sellers of scientific research and patents to meet in an online marketplace has been launched by Science|Business, an online UK-based news service reporting on early-stage R&D investment. The Science|Business Marketplace, at, lets researchers, university spin-out companies and established technology companies view and post announcements about each others’ needs. 

Merck takes over Serono

German pharmaceuticals company Merck has announced a $13.3 billion deal to buy Switzerland’s biotech drug company Serono. The companies’ pharmaceutical divisions will combine to create Merck-Serono Biopharmaceuticals, a business expected to have annual sales of close to $10 billion. 

Serono has also been granted exclusive worldwide rights by Newron Pharmaceuticals, of Italy, to develop, manufacture and commercialise the compound safinamide for cognitive disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Newron recently reported positive results with safinamide from an early Phase III study in Parkinson’s disease. 

Mixed results threaten Akzo blockbuster

Dutch chemical company Akzo Nobel has announced a delay in the passage of its most promising experimental drug to the clinic following ’mixed results’ in clinical trials. The drug, Asenapine, which was developed as an effective treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder has joined a lengthening list of promising drugs that have fallen at the final hurdle.  

Analysts had predicted that Asenapine would bring in $5 billion (?2.7 billion) per year in sales for the company. In response to the news, the value of Akzo stock dropped by 11 per cent.