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Volume 86 Issue 27 | p. 7 | News of The Week
Issue Date: July 7, 2008

Chemical Vulnerability

Department of Homeland Security sends letters to high-risk facilities
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security has preliminarily labeled more than 200 chemical facilities, including university laboratories, at highest risk for a potential terrorist attack. DHS has winnowed this number from a pool of about 7,000 facilities under review in its chemical plant security program.

The agency had identified these facilities from a larger pool of 32,000 and ranked them according to a four-tier system. The highest risk facilities will be subject to the most stringent federal regulation and may be fined for noncompliance or even shuttered (C&EN, April 9, 2007, page 13). For now, the designation by DHS means that these facilities must complete a more detailed security and vulnerability assessment.

Many companies with high-risk facilities are concerned about the ranking. Jeff Gunnulfsen, senior manager of government relations for the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), a trade group, tells C&EN that members have been ringing his phone off the hook. He says he has had to remind them that these rankings are preliminary and that final rankings have yet to be determined.

C&EN has learned from several sources the breakdown of the notified facilities into the four-tier system: 219 in tier 1, the highest risk level; 756 in tier 2; and 1,712 and 4,319 in tiers 3 and 4, respectively. DHS will neither confirm this exact breakdown of the preliminary tier rankings nor release the names of any of the facilities.

These facilities were notified of their preliminary ranking in letters sent by DHS last week. Once the facilities submit the additional information DHS requires, the agency will make its final assessment and determine the final ranking of each high-risk facility. The final rankings will dictate the security measures a given facility must abide by. Potential security measures include installation of a perimeter fence or switching to less hazardous chemical inventories or processes.

Like SOCMA, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), another industry trade group, confirms that members have been notified of their DHS-designated high-risk status. "When we started advocating for a federal chemical security program, we assumed that all of our members would be included" in the risk ranking, ACC Communications Director Scott Jensen says. He won't say exactly how many ACC members are receiving letters, but he points out that "the notification letter should not be a surprise to anyone."

Tim Scott, chief security officer and global director of emergency service and security for Dow Chemical, tells C&EN that several Dow facilities received DHS letters but that the exact number and tier cannot be confirmed for security reasons.

Yale University Director of Environmental Health & Safety Peter A. Reinhardt says DHS informed him that "dozens, not hundreds, of colleges and universities are included in the risk tiers." He adds that "very few are ranked as tier 1; most are ranked in the lower tiers 3 and 4." Reinhardt notes that Yale was not ranked.

DHS Press Secretary Laura Keehner tells C&EN that the first part of the facilities assessment process went "very smoothly" and adds that "DHS's relationship with the chemical sector and other members of the regulatory community continues to be strong and productive."

 
Chemical & Engineering News
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