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November 13, 2009

Chemical Security Bill Wins Approval

Safety: Legislation requires separate standards for academic labs, large commercial facilities

Glenn Hess

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The House has cleared legislation that aims to make chemical facilities safer. Chip East/Reuters/Newscom
The House has cleared legislation that aims to make chemical facilities safer.

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The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would significantly expand the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) authority to regulate security practices at thousands of facilities nationwide that produce, use, or store chemicals.

The Chemical & Water Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2868) requires chemical-handling facilities to reduce the potential consequences of a terrorist attack by adopting so-called inherently safer technologies (IST) such as switching to less hazardous processes or using different chemicals.

During debate on the bill, the House agreed to add a provision directing DHS to establish separate standards and procedures for security vulnerability assessments and site security plans for covered chemical facilities that are also academic laboratories.

“As a scientist, I understand that there is a big difference between an academic laboratory, which contains relatively small amounts of chemicals for student use, and a commercial laboratory facility, which routinely has large amounts of chemicals on hand,” said Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who offered the amendment.

“Universities do not have the need or the budget to implement the same security protocols as are required of commercial facilities, and I am pleased that my amendment was accepted so that academic institutions are able to implement security procedures that meet their needs but still keep our students and communities safe,” said Foster, who is also a physicist.

The American Chemical Society and several other scientific organizations urged lawmakers to include a regulatory distinction between university laboratories and manufacturing sites.

Chemical industry officials say they support DHS’s current program for securing industry facilities but contend that the addition of an IST mandate will have negative, unintended consequences, such as product shortages. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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