Thursday, December 01, 2005

NJ Issues Chem Plant Safety Regs; Including Safer Technologies

I've written quite a bit over the last couple of years (see below) about the sorry state of chemical plant security in this post-9/11 world: the ease with which reporters have been able to "infiltrate" chemical plants, the assassination by the the American Chemical Council of New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine's bill which would have required plants to develop and implement security plans that include "inherently safety technologies," and the ACC's promotion of its "Responsible Care" guidelines as the model for national standards.

Well, the state of New Jersey has finally broken ground on this issue, becoming the first state to issue regulations requiring chemical plants to take measures to reduce their vulnerability to catastrophes resulting from terrorist attacks. The best part is that 43 (of the states 140 plants) using the most hazardous chemical are required to review the potential for adopting inherently safer technologies.
The 43 chemical facilities must analyze and report the feasibility of reducing the amount of material that potentially may be released, substituting less hazardous materials, using materials in the least hazardous process conditions or forms, and designing equipment and processes to minimize the potential for equipment failure and human error, according to the governor's news release.
Chemical plants have 120 days to complete review of chemical and security policies.

Not suprisingly, the New Jersey chemical industry is not pleased, claiming that they've already spent $100 million on plant security -- by which they mean guns, gates and guards, but not inherently safety technologies."
For reasons not clear to us, it seems the cooperative approach between the state and our sector is being abandoned," read a statement from the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, which represents about 100 manufacturers. "The prescriptive order seems to penalize early, responsible actors, while adding requirements that have little to do with security."
Well, if it's not clear, allow me to clarify. The benefits of inherently safer processes is that they reduce the target. Many experts argue that chemical plants are impossible to defend from a determined terrorist, but if there aren't large amounts of extremely hazardous chemical on site, then why bother attacking. Second, inherently safer processes protect not only against terrorists, but also against your garden variety Bhopal-type of accident.

The response from labor and environmental groups is mixed. Rick Engler, director of the NJ Work Environment Council said he was pleased with the inherently safer process part, but was upset that the regulations don't require management to share relevant documents with their unions.

Senator and soon-to-be Governor Jon Corzine was also pleased with the new regulations and promises to strengthen them when he becomes governor.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the U.S. Senate is considering national measures:
About one-fifth of the nation's chemical facilities are close to population centers. Homeland Security has identified 297 chemical facilities where a toxic release could affect 50,000 or more people.

Under the draft legislation, which may still be changed, chemical manufacturers would be required to assess potential security gaps and tailor specific solutions on a plant-by-plant basis. Both the assessments and solutions — which could include measures like surveillance cameras or limited access to certain areas — would then be submitted to Homeland Security for approval.

Chemical manufacturers would also be required to create or update existing emergency response plans.

Repeated failures to comply could lead the Homeland Security secretary to "issue an order for the chemical source to cease operation," according to the most recent draft of the legislation.

In turn, Homeland Security would be required to develop certain security standards for plants that would be grouped into tiers, based on the level of risk they pose to surrounding communities. The agency has identified about 3,400 plants it believes are of concern
A draft of the bill was obtained by the Associated Press. The legislation would set no specific minimum standards that the industry would have to meet in securing its facilities. The bill, written by Republicans, apparently has no requirements for inherently safer technologies, wich may be why it is being supported by the American Chemistry Council.

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