Securing Chemicals | November 12, 2007 Issue - Vol. 85 Issue 46 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 46 | p. 11 | News of The Week
Issue Date: November 12, 2007

Securing Chemicals

Department of Homeland Security issues final list of chemicals of interest
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Homeland Security
Typical chemical storage at a research laboratory at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Credit: Weill Cornell Medical College
Typical chemical storage at a research laboratory at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Credit: Weill Cornell Medical College

THE DEPARTMENT OF Homeland Security (DHS) released on Nov. 2 the long-awaited final list of chemicals and their threshold quantities that are of interest to the department in its efforts to deter terrorism. Dubbed Appendix A, the list of some 300 chemicals, down from a proposed list of nearly 350, is part of DHS's risk-based chemical plant security regulation.

Appendix A is a triggering mechanism. A facility possessing a listed chemical at or above the threshold amount must complete and submit an online questionnaire called Top Screen. Top Screen is the assessment tool DHS will use to determine the level of potential risk posed by facilities, including university laboratories. Those facilities deemed high risk will then have to comply with more substantive requirements of the security regulation.

Such widely used industrial chemicals as chlorine, propane, and anhydrous ammonia, as well as specialty chemicals such as arsine and phosphorus trichloride, made the final cut. Acetone and urea, however, were deleted from the list that was proposed last April.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff characterizes Appendix A as "a critical piece of the federal effort to increase security at high-risk facilities, making it less likely that terrorists can use dangerous chemicals in attacks."

The chemical industry is pleased with the revised list. Both the American Chemistry Council and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association applaud DHS for taking a risk-based approach in finalizing the list. SOCMA, in particular, says the department "has taken the right approach" in deciding which chemicals and what thresholds are necessary to screen chemical facilities for coverage under the regulation.

Universities are also satisfied with the final list, finding it less onerous than the list proposed last April. "It's a great improvement, though it still requires us to do a survey of chemicals on campus," says Peter A. Reinhardt, director of environmental health and safety at Yale University. He estimates that a large university will have to inventory about 100 listed chemicals.

Reinhardt says the finalized list "allows labs not to have to count certain chemicals like ammonia." And, he adds, the final list contains "a special exclusion for certain chemicals used in labs supervised by a technically qualified individual."

Environmental and labor groups, on the other hand, take issue with the thresholds DHS finalized. "We were shocked to learn that the department increased the exemption quantities for every high-priority chemical, including chlorine, ammonia, and hydrogen fluoride," says Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace's Toxics Campaign.

Hind is particularly dismayed by the threshold amount for chlorine, set at 2,500 lb. He notes that "there have been at least five terrorist attacks in Iraq this year using 150-lb cylinders of chlorine and two thefts of similar quantities of chlorine in California and Texas."

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, is planning to introduce legislation early next year to strengthen chemical plant security, committee spokeswoman Dena L. Graziano says. Thompson plans to hold an oversight hearing in early December on DHS's regulation to ferret out areas not currently addressed, such as inherently safer technology.

DHS officials expect to publish Appendix A in the Federal Register by Nov. 16. After the list's publication, facilities will have 60 days to submit their Top Screen inventories to DHS.

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