Concern new counter-terrorism measures to strengthen chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security will cause administrative headaches

New European Union counter-terrorist measures could duplicate existing security procedures and increase administrative burden on the chemical sector, say industry representatives. 

The Council of the European Union has adopted an action plan to strengthen chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) security in the EU. By 


committing to an ’all-hazard’ policy package, the council hopes to reduce the risk of high risk materials being used as weapons.  

Of the many terrorist attacks in recent years, most were committed using explosive devices or firearms. However, there is a risk that in the future terrorist organisations could choose to use CBRN weapons, which have the potential to cause many more casualties, create economic disruption and induce mass public fear.  

The CBRN Action Plan contains a range of measures to be put into practice by the member states over the next three years. Many of the recommendations are already common practice in the chemical industry - for example advising the sector to develop and implement security plans, identify good practice at high-risk facilities and keep up to date lists of high-risk chemical agents. However, a number of the 124 actions concern industry specialists.  

Risk of over-regulation

The European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) and European Association of Chemical Distributors (FECC) have voiced concerns over certain aspects of the CBRN Action Plan. Their primary misgivings centre on the introduction of new regulations, procedures and fora which will duplicate good practice already in place.  

For example, one action calls on EU member states and the European Commission to encourage industry to replace, where possible, the use of high-risk chemicals with suitable lower-risk alternatives. CEFIC and FECC point out that it is already ’in the interest of the facilities to reduce the quantity of high-risk chemicals in their storage rooms. How can the commission and member states support additional research and development of low-risk alternatives?’ The REACH (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances) chemicals legislation entered law in 2007 and already regulates the use of dangerous chemicals in Europe; it is not clear how the new regulations will link with, replace or duplicate REACH.

Other actions outlined in the CBRN plan include a call for further investigation into the risks associated with the trade of chemicals over the Internet, the launch of a study into supply chain security gaps and the availability of high-risk chemicals to the general public, and efforts to further miniaturise chemical detection equipment. 

Global chemicals company BASF produces a large range of chemicals, some of which could be misused for terrorist activities, and is likely to be affected by the CBRN plan. ’At this stage manifold legal requirements exist already covering at least partitions of the new EU action plan,’ the company said. ’It is important that the new security-related production and trade controls are administratively manageable and are not unduly burdensome with regards to manpower and costs.’

Keith Plumb, fellow of the UK’s Institution of Chemical Engineers echoes these concerns: ’The vast majority of chemical facilities are already secure for reasons of safety. With regards to terrorism, the simple point is that the ingredients required to create bombs and other explosive devices are all around us as part of our daily lives. The missing part is the knowledge of how to use them. Most people are not chemical engineers or chemists and so do not have that knowledge.’

Leila Sattary