Issue Date: April 26, 2004
RHODIA DENIES ACCESS TO PLANT
Snafus happen. that’s the only way Rhodia’s Charleston, S.C., plant manager Mike Duffy can explain why international chemical weapons inspectors seeking to conduct a routine inspection at the plant were denied access.
This is the first time in 50 routine inspections conducted at U.S. industrial facilities over the past four years that Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors have temporarily been kept out. Once the inspection finally got under way, it uncovered no problems, Duffy says.
Normally, companies voluntarily consent to routine inspections. But the denial of access from someone in the regulatory affairs office at Rhodia’s New Jersey headquarters forced U.S. hosts from the Departments of Commerce, State, and Defense, as well as the FBI, to obtain an administrative warrant. The three-day inspection, which ended on April 16, then proceeded uneventfully and was not disruptive to plant operations, Duffy says.
Ironically, Duffy tells C&EN, he had received an e-mail from corporate headquarters on April 9 instructing him “to grant voluntary access.” It is not company policy to deny access to inspectors, he says. However, scheduling problems between OPCW inspectors and their U.S. hosts apparently upset someone at company headquarters enough to rescind the voluntary access order.
The Charleston plant makes phosphorus-based compounds for flame retardants, agrochemicals, and drugs. These dual-use, Schedule 2 chemicals under the Chemical Weapons Convention are not produced in large quantities. But they can be used to make chemical weapons, so their production quantities, uses, and other information must be declared to OPCW.
The Charleston plant declaration prompted a routine inspection in 2000, which confirmed its accuracy and affirmed no diversion of chemicals for banned purposes. This April inspection was merely to reaffirm the plant’s adherence to the treaty.
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