Chemical Industry Security Lag Said to Put US at Risk

16.04.2015 -

The slow implementation of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) in the US as part of homeland security and anti-terrorism measures is leaving chemical plants vulnerable and putting the population at risk, a study published in the International Journal of Critical Infrastructures suggests.

Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), established after the terrorist incidents of Sept. 11, 2001, was charged with regulating the safety and security of chemical facilities and in 2007 added an interim final rule, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), the study's authors, Maria Rooijakkers and Abdul-Akeem Sadiq of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, say very few chemical facilities have actually  implemented the security rules.

The researchers urge the industry and DHS to work more closely together "before it is too late to ensure the safety and security of the US population." Communities, they say, should not wait for companies to implement CFATS before developing their own preparedness and response plans to deal with possible chemical disasters, whether caused by terrorism or accident.

With almost 1 million direct employees, the chemical sector sustains an additional 5.5 million jobs in other sectors. It is also "a vital part of the US economy", representing almost 2 % of GDP - based on 2009 figures - and the nation's biggest exporter, Rooijakkers and Sadiq point out. As the industry belongs to the country's "critical infrastructure" as defined in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) of 2009 it is essential to the sustenance of the economy and government itself, they add.

The importance of the chemical industry as well as the proximity of its facilities to densely populated areas make it a particularly vulnerable target for terrorist attack, the research team says, noting that four of the 15 National Planning Scenarios are related to chemical attack, yet only 40 of the 3,468 chemical facilities given their final tier designations under CFATS in 2007 had had their plans approved by 2013, and "the pace of adoption and implement is yet to pick up."