Chemical Industry Admits Security Lapses Unacceptable; Legislation Needed

Nov. 20, 2003
Following a scathing report on CBS' "60 Minutes," in which correspondent Steve Kroft reported that chemical plants are still not subject to federal regulations when it comes to security, and proved it by walking around unchallenged through a chemical plant, the chemical industry has responded that, perhaps, federal legislation is needed to regulate security after all.

Greg Lebedev is president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a group that represents the largest chemical manufacturers in the country. ACC has fought hard against federal security regulations for the industry, instead relying on voluntary measures. Apparently at some facilities, those voluntary measures don't work.

"Chemical makers employ more than 1 million people... So it's right to ask: What's being done to protect the men and women who work at chemical facilities, their neighbors and these essential products from terrorist attack?" says Lebedev.

While he claims that ACC's 145 members already have done much to secure their properties, he admits, "More needs to be done."

Which brings us to Steve Kroft and Carl Prine, an investigative reporter at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: how did they manage to walk around the Neville Chemical Plant with a news camera?No one approached Kroft and Prine until they were technically off the property. After explaining they were reporters doing a story about security at chemical plants, they were arrested for trespassing. If they had been terrorists, planting a bomb, the damage would have been done by that point.

Prine began probing security at chemicall plants six months after Sept. 11. He told "60 Minutes" he visited 60 chemical facilities across the country, including ones in the Chicago, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Houston areas. "I found almost non-existent security in a lot of places," he said. "I walked right up to the tanks. There was one plant in Chicago, I simply sat on top of the tank and waved: 'Hello, I'm on your tank.'"

He said no one tried to stop him. He took pictures at all the facilities, and later informed the companies, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the ACC, that he had been able to gain entry with no problem. Despite notifying the companies, and running the series of articles in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Prine believed he would still be able to gain entry to those same facilities.

Kroft and "60 Minutes" cameras accompanied him on a trip into the Neville Chemical Plant, near downtown Pittsburgh, where they were able to walk up to tanks containing anhydrous ammonia and boron triflouride, both deadly chemicals. In fact, Kroft and Prine walked around for more than 10 minutes, unchallenged by the employees, who said hello and waved. After they left the facility, they were challenged by a security guard, who called the head of security. He asked them to accompany him to the facility's offices, where police were called.

Admits Lederer, "Security lapses at chemical facilities are unacceptable. To help assure safety and readiness, the federal government must oversee and support security at all of the thousands of facilities across the nation that handle chemicals, including those that are not ACC members and have not yet adopted a strict security code."

He said ACC has urged Congress to pass legislation that would:

  • Establish a national program requiring chemical facilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and to enhance security; Provide oversight, inspection and strong enforcement authority at the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that facilities are secure against the threat of terrorism.
  • Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., fought long and hard to pass a measure he floated after 9/11 that would have put the federal government in charge of chemical plant security. Corzine, who thought the legislation practically would be a slam-dunk, admits now he under-estimated the influence the chemical industry could exert.

"My bill was crushed by the American Chemistry Council. It was crushed by those who were looking after their private interests and not the public interests," says Corzine.

He told "60 Minutes, "We're looking all over Iraq for biological and chemical weapons. We don't have to look for 'em very hard. They're right here, right here in our backyards."

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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