Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Inherently Safer Technology Assessment under HR 5577

This is part of a continuing series taking a detailed look at the provisions of the new Chemical Facility Anti-terrorism Act of 2008 recently introduced in Congress (HR 5577IH). Today’s entry looks at Section 2110(a) that deals with the assessment of methods to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack under CFATA of 2008.

Previous blogs in this series include:

Section 2110 is based on the concept that if the use of a dangerous chemical at a high-risk chemical facility is reduced or eliminated, the level of risk at that facility is reduced. This commonly known as inherently safer technology (IST). Simple in concept, the analysis of possible methods, the assessment of the viability of those potential methods and implementation of such methods is very complex and politically controversial.

Methods to Reduce the Consequences of Terrorist Attack

Section 2101(11) provides a list of methods to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack, They include:

(A) input substitution;

(B) catalyst or carrier substitution;

(C) process redesign (including reuse or recycling of a substance of concern);

(D) product reformulation;

(E) procedure simplification;

(F) technology modification;

(G) use of less hazardous substances or benign substances;

(H) use of smaller quantities of substances of concern;

(I) reduction of hazardous pressures or temperatures;

(J) reduction of the possibility and potential consequences of equipment failure and human error;

(K) improvement of inventory control and chemical use efficiency; and

(L) reduction or elimination of the storage, transportation, handling, disposal, and discharge of substances of concern.

While it is usually the first method, substitution of raw materials, that gets the most attention, this is actually a fairly comprehensive list of techniques that chemical companies typically look at to reduce process costs. I am sure that, until recently, most companies did not include reducing the risks of terrorist attacks as one of the criteria that they used when evaluating these process change options. I am also sure that most chemical companies have looked at a number of these options in developing or updating their processes.

Facilities will find that many of these methods were reviewed during HAZOP or Process Safety reviews for the processes involved. Many of these consequence reviews will be able to use the materials developed during the previous safety reviews. This emphasizes what many supporters of IST have maintained all along, that safety and security often go hand in hand.

Assessment as Part of Site Security Plan

All facilities that are required to complete a site security plan (SSP) under section 2103 (see: "Ranking of Chemical Facilities by HR 5577") are required to conduct an assessment of the methods to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack. In effect this means that each process at the facility that uses one or more of the chemicals that are required to be reported to DHS will have to be formally reviewed. Other dangerous chemicals do not need to be reviewed, except as part of the review of the other chemicals.

There are four requirements that these reviews must meet:

    • Description of the methods assessed.
    • The degree to which the method reduced the consequences of an attack.
    • The technical and financial viability of the implementing the methods.
    • Additional information used in the evaluation

The wording of this section {Section 2110(a)(1)} implies that the facility is not required to evaluate each of 12 methods for each of the chemicals covered by these regulations. How many of the methods are actually looked at will depend on the chemical, the process, and the facility. No one will take the review seriously, however, if the replacement of the dangerous chemicals with less dangerous alternatives is not considered as one of the methods.

Reduced the Consequences of an Attack

The reduced consequences of an attack are evaluated by determining how the change would reduce the "potential extent of death,injury, or serious adverse effects to human health" {Section 2110(a)(2)}. A change that would reduce the potential deaths, but increase the number possibly injured may be a reduction in the consequences, or it may not, depending on the number of people involved.

Determining the degree to which the analyzed method reduces the consequences of a terrorist attack will not always be clear-cut. Replacing chemicals with less toxic chemicals may reduce the hazard unless a larger volume of the new chemical extends the distance a toxic cloud might drift.

If risk calculations can be made, the methodology should be documented. If the risks are estimated, the assumptions that were made as part of that estimate need to be clearly explained.

Technical and Financial Viability

The technical viability of a proposed method may be easy to evaluate if the change is well established and understood. The technical viability of a process or chemical change that has been evaluated in a corporate lab may be easier to estimate than one that has only been reviewed in an academic lab. In either case the estimate of technical viability of a method that is still in laboratory rather than manufacturing development needs to include the best estimate of time and money that will be required to move that method out of the laboratory and into full scale production.

The variables that go into the analysis of financial viability of implementing a method of reducing consequences of a terrorist attack may be just as difficult to determine as those in the evaluation of technical viability if the change has not yet been commercially implemented. Some of the factors that should be considered are the costs of development, costs of implementation, and potential savings from the change. Savings need to include the costs of any security and safety measures that can be avoided by implementing the measure.

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