Wednesday, June 09, 2004

WMDs In Your Back Yard: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

I have written a number of times about the failure of the U.S. government to address security issues at American chemical plants, while at the same time engaging in a costly and disastrous wild goose chase for phantom WMDs in Iraq. (Here and here) Now U.S. PIRG has issued a report showing that twelve companies each endanger more than five million Americans in the event of accidents or terrorist attacks at their chemical facilities. The report, "Dangerous Dozen: A Look at How Chemical Companies Jeopardize Millions of Americans," analyzes the chemical companies' own estimates submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Findings include:
  • The 12 companies whose facilities endanger the most people are JCI Jones Chemical, The Clorox Company, Kuehne Chemical, KIK Corporation, DuPont, Pioneer Companies, Clean Harbors, GATX Corporation, PVS Chemicals, Dow Chemical, Ferro Corporation and Occidental.

  • The 12 parent companies profiled in Dangerous Dozen own 154 high-hazard facilities in 31 different states.

  • The three companies whose facilities put the greatest number of people at risk are JCI Jones Chemical, The Clorox Company, and Kuehne Chemical, which put a total of more than 20 million, 14 million, and 12 million people at risk, respectively.

  • Since 1990, the National Response Center (NRC) has received more than 8,400 reports of incidents involving oil or chemical spills at facilities owned by these 12 parent companies.
US PIRG calls for laws requiring "high-hazard chemical plants to review and use safer chemicals and processes wherever possible and to enact strict security standards where safer chemicals are not feasible."

This "inherently safe production" makes sense on two levels. First, no highly hazardous chemicals capable of killing large numbers of people means no terrorist targets. Second, moving toward safer production means a much lower threat of chemical accidents caused by "naturally occurring" management system failures.

The Bush administration has refused to consider regulations that would require chemical facilities to minimize the hazards at their plants. Although Senator Jon Corzine has introduced legislation requiring the chemical industry to consider inherently safe production, the administration and Republican-controlled Congress seem to prefer a bill introduced by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), supported by the American Chemical Council, that would simply encourage the chemical industry to follow voluntary standards focusing on higher fences and more guards. US PIRG reports that
The American Chemistry Council (ACC), a lobbying organization that works on behalf of the chemical industry, spent $4.3 million in 2002 and 2003 on in-house lobbyists, making it the loudest voice on Capitol Hill opposing strong, mandatory chemical security regulations.
I find one statistic most unnerving: Only six of the 12 companies profiled in Dangerous Dozen are ACC members. Why does this fact bother me so much? The Bush administration and Senator Inhofe are essentially depending on the ACC's "Responsible Care" security program to ensure the safety of the country's chemical plants.
Two years after the terrorist attacks on our country, Americans understandably are asking “Are we safer?” On behalf of the members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), ACC is providing you with information about the comprehensive, risk-based security measures ACC member companies have taken - and continue to take - to further ensure that our industry and all Americans are increasingly secure against threats of terrorism.

Today, each of ACC's members is implementing an extensive security program under our industry's Responsible Care® Security Code, which addresses site, transportation, and cyber security. Our members have completed vulnerability assessments at the highest priority sites. All remaining assessments will be completed by the end of this year.
Even if it's true (which I seriously doubt) that all ACC members are in perfect compliance with the ACC program, that still leaves half of the most dangerous plants without even the claim to be in compliance.

I feel safer. Don't you?