“What you don’t have can’t leak, or be blown up by terrorists” appears prominently on the title page of “Chemical Security 101,” a 57-page report issued in November 2008 by the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., -based think tank that fosters what it describes as “progressive and pragmatic” policies. No one can argue with that logic — indeed, it serves as the cornerstone of inherent safety, a philosophy that we’ve devoted considerable space to (e.g., “Rethink Your Approach to Process Safety,” www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2007/158.html, and “A New Spin on Safety,” www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2004/33.html).
“Most of the nation’s 101 most dangerous chemical facilities could become less attractive terrorist targets by converting to alternative chemicals or processes,” the report concludes. “Doing so would improve the safety and security of more than 80 million Americans living within range of a worst-case toxic gas release from one of these facilities, according to data compiled for this report. Millions more living near railroads and highways used for transporting hazardous chemicals would also be safer and more secure.” In addition, it cautions that “at least 90% of the 101 most dangerous facilities ship or receive their highest-hazard chemical in indefensible railroad tank cars or trucks.” The report notes that the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) of the Department of Homeland Security (see “Get Ready to Comply with New Security Mandates,” www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2007/095.html) don’t require sites to account for chemical hazards in transportation along supply or distribution chains. “Spending a billion dollars — or a trillion — on plant-site security won’t protect unguarded railcars and trucks that travel thousands of miles over railroads and highways. Indeed, rail workers report ‘a disturbing lack of security along the railroad tracks and in rail yards,’” it adds.
CFATS don’t mandate that plants consider inherently safer alternatives to existing hazards but the Center clearly believes that’s the wisest approach:
“Adopting safer and more secure alternatives is the only certain way to prevent a catastrophic chemical release. Such measures remove the possibility of a release. By contrast, physical barriers may be destroyed by a truck bomb, evaded by insider sabotage, or otherwise defeated. Security may also be unreliable. Investigative journalists have found lax security at more than 100 chemical facilities across the country.”
Such options may provide the most economical solution to chemical security, the report contends. “If a facility does not have a chemical with catastrophic potential, it does not need to spend as much on guards, gates, and other security measures. Nor is such a facility subject to the requirements of the CFATS and other laws and regulations governing extremely hazardous chemicals. As a result, the facility may save money on regulatory compliance staff, permits and fees, inspections, emergency planning, and personal protective equipment for employees, among other savings.
“The facility may also pay lower insurance premiums, and certainly faces lower liabilities for deaths, injuries, contamination, and property damage in the event of a major toxic gas release. High-hazard toxic gases account for just 0.3% of rail carloads, for example, but they carry enormous risks and potential liabilities. One insurance study found that a major chlorine rail spill in an urban area could cause 10,200 fatalities and over $7 billion in damages.”
Underscoring that plants shouldn’t consider a chemical hazard as unavoidable, the report reiterates that the Center already had identified 284 facilities in 47 states that converted their technology to avoid hazards.
The report cites specific actions that could be taken, such as:
• Bleach manufacturers can eliminate bulk chlorine gas by generating chlorine on-site as needed without storage.
• Petroleum refineries can eliminate hydrofluoric acid alkylation by using less hazardous sulfuric acid or by developing solid acid catalysts.
• Water utilities can eliminate bulk chlorine gas by using liquid bleach, ozone without storage, and ultraviolet light as appropriate.
• Paper mills can eliminate bulk chlorine gas by using hydrogen peroxide, ozone, or chlorine dioxide without bulk storage.
• Manufacturers of polyurethane foams can eliminate bulk ethylene oxide by substituting vegetable-based polyols.
It also stresses that solutions applicable to the top 101 facilities could improve safety and security at many other high-hazard facilities — and lists 202 more sites that might benefit.
The chemical industry certainly shouldn’t ignore this report, which is downloadable via www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/11/chemical_security.html. We should engage in a constructive dialog about what inherently safer technology is feasible. This requires considering technical and economic issues and also whether a switch simply transfers risk elsewhere — notes Dennis Hendershot, who authored the two inherent-safety articles cited in this column and who serves as the Process Safety guru in the Ask the Experts feature on our Web site (www.ChemicalProcessing.com/experts/index.html).
Mark Rosenzweig is editor in chief of Chemical Processing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.