Industry cautions over EU and US efforts to prevent chemical facilities being targeted by terrorist

The EU and the US are simultaneously taking action in a bid to secure chemical facilities and prevent their misuse by terrorists. The chemical industries in both regions are backing the two parallel efforts, but they are also cautioning against overly prescriptive regulations. 

The European Commission approved a new policy to enhance chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) security on 24 June. The package proposes a broad approach to CBRN security, focusing on preventing unauthorised access to materials of concern, enhancing detection capabilities, and improving preparedness and response capabilities. 

The EU package currently exists as an ’action plan’ that will be implemented predominantly by already existing national, EU and international structures. It remains unclear which aspects of the proposal will be adopted, but up to €100 million (£86 million) will be allocated from existing financial programmes to support the implementation process, due to take place between 2010 and 2013. 

But chemical industry representatives say voluntary codes are likely to be more manageable than mandatory requirements. René van Sloten, a senior official with the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), says most of the proposals are already covered by existing legislation in various fields. Nevertheless, there is concern that any new policies implemented could be onerous for the chemical industry. 

’As a globally active industry, it is important that security-related trade and production controls on chemicals is administratively manageable, continues to facilitate legitimate trade, is not overly burdensome in terms of costs and manpower, safeguards confidential business information and respects the principle of a level playing field by being evenly applied across all chemical producing regions,’ van Sloten tells Chemistry World

More documentation, recordkeeping 

’There may be more documentation, tracking requirements and records kept,’ warns Peter Newport, director of the UK Chemical Business Association, which represents chemical distributors and logistics firms. But he notes that these efforts are more likely to impact the bottom line of the consumer, rather than industry. 

’If there is a perception by government that there is a security risk, and it is addressed through legislation that raises costs for industry, then industry will pass that on,’ Newport says. 

A CBRN task force will present its action plan to the European Council of Ministers within the month. Consultants have been hired to initiate a cost impact evaluation over the summer. A report, which will address expenses and implementation, is expected in the autumn. 

In the US, meanwhile, the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee approved legislation on June 23 that would give the Department of Homeland Security greater authority to enhance security and prevent acts of terrorism against chemical facilities. It would require chemical facilities to assess various methods to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack, and it would push them to convert to safer alternative chemicals or processes, otherwise known as inherently safer technologies (IST). 

In addition, the bill would make chemical plants more vulnerable to civil lawsuits if they violate regulations. It would also reauthorise the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards - rules, which are set to expire in October, that impose comprehensive federal security regulations for high-risk chemical facilities. 

The Homeland Security Committee passed the bill with an 18-11 vote along party lines, but the House Energy and Commerce Committee must still approve the measure before it will be ready for action by the full House of Representatives. Similar chemical security legislation has been introduced in Congress for the past several years, but has never advanced beyond the Homeland Security Committee. Proponents say the future looks brighter because the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s chairman, Henry Waxman, has said he is committed to take up the legislation. His committee is expected to mark up the bill sometime in July. 

The US Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), a trade association based in Washington, DC, expresses serious reservations about the bill’s impact on batch chemical manufacturers and small businesses. 

Although SOCMA is pleased that Congress is working to improve chemical security, it is worried about the IST provision in the bill. The language would ’take the decisions about risk away from workers in chemical facilities and leave them to bureaucrats in Washington,’ says Bill Allmond, the group’s vice president of government relations. ’It would force scientists’ hands and deal a severe economic blow to SOCMA’s member companies.’