Friday, November 9, 2007

Laboratories get some breaks in the Chemicals of Interest List

When the proposed Appendix A to 6 CFR part 27 was published last spring two groups were very surprised to see that they could potentially be seen as high-threat terrorist targets. The largest group, the propane industry, quickly staged a write in campaign (4,000 of the 4,300 comments received by DHS came from the propane industry) and started pulling political strings to get that changed. They were very successful. The other people that were caught by surprise were people that operated laboratories at educational institutions, medical facilities and industrial research labs. They were not as organized in their response, but they did get some relief from some of the proposed requirements.


The first thing that these labs complained about were the large number of chemicals listed with an “any quantity” Screening Threshold Quantity (STQ). Almost 100 separate chemicals; identified by DHS as being chemical weapons (CW), their precursors (CWP) or inhalation hazard chemicals (WME); had this STQ listed in the proposed Chemicals of Interest (COI) list. While many of these chemicals have no use beyond chemical weapons, a number of them are frequently used in chemical labs.


DHS did listen to the complaints about the “any quantity” STQ and set specific STQs for each category of chemicals on the list. The table below shows the STQ for the chemicals that used to have an “any quantity” STQ. “CWC” stands for Chemical Weapons Convention. “PIH” stands for Poisonous by Inhalation. “Cum 100g” means that an aggregate weight of all chemicals in this class greater than 100g will trigger the Top Screen requirement.


Type Chemical


CWC – Schedule 1

Cum 100g

CWC – Schedule 2

2.2 lbs

CWC – Schedule 3

220 lbs

PIH Zone A

15 lbs

PIH Zone B

45 lbs

PIH Zone C

500 lbs

Theft/Diversion STQ for CW/CWP and WME


Because of the size of the STQs most labs will not have to consider Schedule 3 CWC chemicals or Zone B or C PIH chemicals when doing their calculations to determine if they exceed the STQ. While the 100-g aggregate limit for Schedule 1 CWC chemicals may seem steep, these are actual chemical weapon chemicals and have few legitimate laboratory uses other than making pesticides, so few labs should be affected by this STQ.


DHS also included a laboratory exemption for most release hazard chemicals. This means that most flammable chemicals will not have to be counted by labs. Not that most labs would have been affected anyway; very few labs have use for 10,000 lbs of any given hazardous chemical. This lab exemption does not apply to labs making production batches of chemicals.


Another area that labs disagreed with the proposed Appendix A was that it listed acetone as an Improvised Explosive Device Precursor (IEDP) chemical with an STQ of 2000 lbs. Acetone is a very common solvent used in organic chemistry. While few labs would be expected to have 2000 lbs of acetone on hand, many universities (with multiple labs) might receive acetone in quantities that large in a centralized receiving facility.


While acetone is a precursor to a very dangerous improvised explosive (Triacetone Peroxide – TAP) DHS decided that it would be impractical to try to regulate the acetone component since it is so widely used. Instead DHS will regulate the hydrogen peroxide (≥35%) portion of the production of that explosive.


The one area that college and university labs lost out completely on was a broad exemption from all requirements of the CFATS regulations. DHS was adamant in its opposition to this exemption. On page 65 of the Final Rule for Appendix A DHS made the following comment:


“Furthermore, given the apparent current state of security at academic institutions, DHS believes that exclusion of colleges and universities is not warranted. Based on the comments DHS received from colleges and universities, the Department understands that security varies dramatically across academic institutions. Representatives of the academic community acknowledged that they possess chemicals of interest. While some adhere to broad security strategies, others admitted having an incomplete or non-existent inventory of the contents and quantities of chemicals and no affordable or timely means of compiling an inventory.”


DHS has said that they will, upon request, grant colleges and universities a 60 day extension of the time necessary to complete an initial Top Screen. When granted, this extension would allow these facilities up to 120 days to complete their initial Top Screen. Additionally, DHS notes that they will give colleges and universities wide latitude in the way they define chemical facilities at their institution. Some schools might want the chemistry and biology departments to be classified as separate facilities, for example.


While college and university laboratories did not get the free ride granted to the propane industry, DHS did take notice of their legitimate complaints. The “any amount” STQ has been replaced by more reasonable STQ weights, and acetone was removed from the list. DHS did not give these labs a blanket exemption to avoid the security implications of their chemical inventories. Many educational, medical and research laboratories will find that they will be required to complete the Top Screen portion of the on-line Chemical Security Assessment Tool. Only time will tell how many of these labs will come under the increased security requirements that come along with being declared a high-risk facility by DHS as a result of their Top Screen filings.

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