Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Anhydrous Ammonia Theft

A news story from Illinois points out the continuing problem of theft of anhydrous ammonia used to support illicit manufacturer methamphetamines. Unfortunately, it also points out the continuing lack of physical security at some high-risk chemical facilities.

Release Toxic COI Anhydrous ammonia is a release toxic chemical of interest and it is fairly clear that the facility in the article has more than 10,000 lbs on-site. While there is no description of the surrounding community in the article it would not be hard to expect that DHS would determine that a facility like this would be a high-risk chemical facility. Now the facility does have some pretty decent still and video footage of the individual stealing the anhydrous ammonia. Photos like this, publicized like this, will almost certainly lead to police catching this local drug manufacturer. What they don’t do, however, is to prevent the theft or release of this TIH chemical. A druggee penetrated the facility perimeter and remain unmolested by security or police for long enough to tap into a storage container and then walk out with a propane cylinder filled with the anhydrous ammonia. This then means that the security is also inadequate to prevent a terrorist from entering the facility with a propane cylinder sized IED to be detonated at one of the large storage tanks. If this is a high-risk chemical facility, and I really have no way of knowing for sure that it is, then the chemical facility inspectors from DHS need to pay an early visit to this facility. While it may not yet be due for its SSP inspection, the fact that its security has been publicly identified as being weak should call for special interest by the folks at DHS. Theft-Diversion COI Currently anhydrous ammonia is only a release toxic COI under CFATS regulations. It clearly doesn’t meet the requirements for a theft-diversion COI since it isn’t considered a precursor chemical for an IED explosive (though I could certainly describe a binary explosive device that would have some interesting side effects) and anhydrous ammonia doesn’t quite fit the description of a potential chemical agent. I certainly think that a legitimate argument could be made for making anhydrous ammonia a special case for designation as a theft-diversion COI. This would take at least a new rule being drafted/posted and would certainly be opposed by manufacturers, distributors and users of anhydrous ammonia. The additional security costs to stop the theft-diversion could be substantial. But, protecting communities from the potential toxic release that is frequently the byproduct of the drug related theft of anhydrous facilities is something that should be considered. I don’t expect that DHS would be willing to take on this issue, the political opposition would be too great and the homeland security benefit would be relatively small. It would take someone to propose the requirement in some legislation to make this happen. A logical place to put it would be the CFATS reauthorization legislation.


J Stebbins said...

Well stated. I recently sent a request to DHS in regards to NIPP information that was not contained within the Commercial Facilities Sector SSA. Their reply was basically this, we conduct reviews every three years and this information will be updated shortly.

Now, that being said, the "what if" scenarios come into play here. This drug dealer, what if he did not properly connect his container and the Anhydrous Ammonia leaked? What then? Would the resulting potential deaths within the facility or the community been enough to implement the change needed to make this a theft COI? Who's to say. I highly agree that any chemical that has the potential for mass causalities should be highly secured. Cost is always going to be a stickler when it comes to this, however, what is the cost of not doing something to prevent a catastrophe from occurring, versus cleaning up after the catastrophe has occurred. BP, for example, could have implemented higher standards and safeguards to prevent the Methane backflow from occurring, yet they now have to clean up the mess that was caused by it. The entire nation is watching, everyday.

PJCoyle said...

For my response to J Stebbins comments see: http://chemical-facility-security-news.blogspot.com/2010/06/reader-comment-06-14-10-updating-coi.html

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