Tuesday, June 17, 2008

IST Oversimplification

There is an interesting guest blog today on SecurityDebrief, a collection of security related blogs at Adfero.com. The guest blog, by L. Vance Taylor, is titled "IST – Inherently Stupider Technologies?" Seeing that title you might think that it was a diatribe against IST. Well, it really isn’t. After all how can one really be inherently safer technology?

What the blog actually does is to take on the people that want to insist on the replacement of chlorine with bleach, or ozone in the water treatment process. And in this, I have to agree with Mr Taylor. The people who should decide what type of disinfection process (as long as the selected process adequately disinfects) to use at a particular facility are the people who will be held responsible for the facility failing to disinfect the water supply; the facility management.

Unfortunately, this discussion is degrading into the all too typical Washington political battle. Two sides argue the extremes of an issue while some poor politicians are actually trying to get something worthwhile accomplished. In this case, Mr. Taylor needs to get past the rhetoric of the testimony and look at the bill under discussion, HR 5577.

In this case the politicians are Chairman Thompson and the House Homeland Security Committee. They have done a pretty good job in hammering out, what appears to be a workable way of dealing with the IST issue. First, the bill only mandates that the highest-risk chemical facilities evaluate the IST alternatives for their facility. This formal assessment will become part of the Site Security Plan.

If, and only if, that assessment shows that the facility can practicably switch to an alternative safer process or chemical, can the Secretary of DHS require the facility to do so. Even then, there are a number of bureaucratic roadblocks that can be thrown up to avoid switching to questionably safer and more secure technology.

The testimony at the same hearing of Brad Coffee from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California shows how a realistic assessment can be made against switching from chlorine to bleach. Interestingly enough assessments by the same team did show that a number of the water treatment facilities in that organization should (and did) switch away from chlorine gas.

We need to stop building fortresses on hilltops and actually look at where the battle is being fought in the valley. The politicians have crafted a workable solution to a complex problem. They are simply requiring what everyone should agree is the job of the owner of any chemical facility handling dangerous chemicals; try to find the safest way to make the product while still staying in business.

In most cases, reputable companies have already done this analysis as part of the EPA and OSHA required safety review processes. Companies that have not done so owe it themselves, their owners, their employees and their communities to do so as soon as possible.

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