Friday, March 7, 2008

Green Chemistry and IST

In light of our on-going discussion of inherently safer technology (IST) on this site, I thought that it would be appropriate to look at Senate Bill S.2669. Recently introduced, the Green Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2008 is another way to promote IST.


Section 2 of this legislation defines Green Chemistry as:


“….chemistry and chemical engineering to design chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances while producing high quality products through safe and efficient manufacturing processes”.


While this bill is not being advertised as an IST program, it certainly would have the effect of promoting IST by producing safer chemical processes. Reducing or eliminating the ‘use or generation of hazardous substances’ would significantly reduce the risk of terrorist attack at facilities that implement these Green Chemistry techniques.


Green Chemistry Program


The bill would require the President to “…establish a Green Chemistry Research and Development Program to promote and coordinate Federal green chemistry research, development, education, and technology transfer activities.” {Section 3(a)} The program would include competitive grants to individual investigators, grants to collaborative R&D activities among universities, industry and nonprofit organizations, and green chemistry research at Federal labs.


Funding for Green Chemistry for the next three years will be through four Federal agencies; the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. The total funding would increase from $51 Million in 2009 to $59 Million in 2011.


The one agency that should probably be included in the funding for this program would be the Department of Homeland Security. That funding could be in the form of grants for matching funds for high-risk chemical facilities to join collaborative research efforts on replacements for COI at their facilities. Again, any incentive towards IST will increase the number of IST programs implemented at chemical facilities.


Encouraging Inherently Safer Technology


I have mentioned on a number of occasions (see: “More Reader Comments on IST”) that I think that IST is one method for reducing the risk from both accidents and terrorist attacks. The problem is that there is not an IST for every chemical or process, nor are the available IST necessarily as efficient (cost) or effective (quality) as current technology. Even where generally equivalent IST does exist, it may not be a practicable substitution at every site.


A blanket requirement to implement an IST would be arbitrary and impractical (and has never been seriously proposed). A requirement to assess available IST (as seen in the current draft of CFAT Act of 2008) is unlikely to produce more than pro-forma negative evaluations at most facilities. The only way to get widespread adoption of IST will be to make it economically advantageous to do so.


There are two ways to make that economic calculation come out in favor of implementation; reduce the cost of IST and increase the alternative costs. DHS is taking care of the later; making high-risk facilities increase their cost of using hazardous chemicals through requiring appropriate security procedures. If, at the same time, the government can demonstrate that safer alternatives are cheaper or more effective, there will be a willing adoption of those techniques.


Politics and Green Chemistry


Interestingly Sen. Collins, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, is one of the co-sponsors of S.2669 (Senators Snowe, Rockefeller, Pryor and Kerry are the others, clearly by-partisan support). Sen. Collins has been an outspoken proponent of increased security at chemical facilities and has been generally supportive of IST.


According to the article in Chemical and Engineering News, this bill has the support of

“chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology industries, as well as the American Chemical Society.” These groups have not generally been supportive of government directed implementation of IST. Their support of this initiative is an acknowledgement that IST does have a place in the tool chests of chemical facilities to improve their safety and security.

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