An interesting article from NBCChicago.com points out a limitation of the current list of chemicals used to trigger CFATS compliance; even relatively low risk chemicals can cause security issues.
The brief article describes a recent fire in a storage tank at a Rhodia plant Dixmoor, IL. The storage tank contained sulfur (not a COI under CFATS) and the fire produced sulfur dioxide (among other things of course). Sulfur dioxide is toxic and evacuations around the plant were ordered. There were no injuries reported in the article and the cause of the fire “remains under investigation” but no one is apparently mentioning the ‘T’ word even in dismissing the possibility.
Now sulfur dioxide (anhydrous) is a CFATS COI, both as a release – toxic (5,000 lbs) and a theft/diversion – WME (500 lbs). The fire may have produced amounts in excess of both quantities, but no one in their right mind would expect Rhodia of having to report this on a Top Screen for this facility. At the very least they would reasonably argue that they did not have an ‘inventory’ of this material or that the material was never really on-site; it was in a dissipating smoke cloud with concentrations below the minimum reporting requirements (1% and 84% respectively).
The potential issue is that there are a number of processes like fire that can happen at a chemical facility that would produce COI. Many of these processes could be manipulated by a terrorist attack (or more likely a disgruntled employee attack) and result in the same type damage that would be expected from an attack on a facility with similar amounts of the COI in storage.
Does this mean that all of these potential processes require action under CFATS? Absolutely not. While DHS has included a class of ‘Sabotage’ COI; that class is very restricted in the chemicals it applies to; generally only chemicals that produce toxic gasses upon the addition of water.
Should these processes be regulated under CFATS? Almost certainly not; though please note that there is a significant semantic difference between ‘absolutely not’ and ‘almost certainly not’. First off trying to write a rule that would reasonably limit the inclusion to the most dangerous chemicals or define the ‘processes’ in a reasonable manner would be extremely difficult and subject to lots of legitimate complaints about over reaching regulations.
Besides which, managing the list of COI for chemicals that would be potentially affected by this rule would be ridiculous. Just listing the chemicals that could produce sulfur dioxide in the event of a fire would be exhausting.
Look at Potential Consequences
Having said that, this incident in Illinois points out that there are potential consequences that could create a security issue. At the very least there ought to be some mechanism that identifies the facilities that would produce the worst effects when one of these processes is triggered, either accidentally or deliberately.
I’m not sure how you would reasonably do it, but because of this news report about this incident, the topic becomes something that facilities that store sulfur at the very least must consider. There is no telling what wackos read the news.