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Plants Find Right Security Chemistry

WHEN CHEMICAL manufacturer PVS Technologies stopped having chlorine gas delivered by rail car, instead building a direct pipeline from a nearby chlorine producer, it protected 300,000 residents of Augusta, Georgia, from the dangers of filling, moving, and unloading large vessels of the toxic substance.

Similarly, Calgon Carbon Corporation aided 120,000 residents around its Neville Island Plant near Pittsburgh when it changed its manufacturing process to eliminate anhydrous (commercial-grade) ammonia, a caustic chemical. And by moving a facility out of downtown Los Angeles, Hill Brothers Chemical Company freed 500,000 nearby residents from the risk of an ammonia gas release.

These three cases are encouraging signs that chemical plants and other businesses that use toxic materials are addressing safety and security issues. A survey from the think tank Center for American

Progress (CAP) reports that 284 facilities in 47 states “have dramatically reduced the danger of a chemical release into nearby communities by switching to less acutely hazardous processes or chemicals or moving to safer locations.”

Many companies achieved these improvements with minor expenditures—half of the survey respondents who provided numbers said the changes cost less than $100,000. A few also reported cost savings by virtue of decreased safety and security costs, including reduced insurance premiums and fewer compliance staff.

The survey went to about 1,800 facilities that had recently reduced their use of extremely hazardous substances to less than thresholds set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The survey’s goal was to identify companies that had made significant safety improvements, spotlighting noteworthy “successful practices that have removed unnecessary chemical dangers from our communities.”

Still, a lot more work needs to be done, says the CAP recap of the survey. Thousands of other facilities have not made such changes, it says.

The CAP paper makes eight recommendations for making chemical plants and commercial chemical users, such as wastewater treatment plants, safer. For one, it recommends that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) develop methodologies for evaluating the impact of different production technologies on a facility’s security.

Another report, prepared at the behest of DHS by the National Research Council’s Committee on Assessing Vulnerabilities Related to the Nation’s Chemical Infrastructure, characterizes the vulnerabilities in the chemical sector and offers advice on mitigating them. For example, because containers holding dangerous chemicals constitute obvious terrorist targets, the report urges DHS to invest in long-term research to improve the safety and security of chemical storage in both fixed facilities and during transportation.