Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Community Right to Know and CFATS

There is an excellent series of articles in the online version of the Scranton, PA Times-Tribune dealing with the public’s right to know about highly hazardous materials in their community. The authors looked at Risk Management Plans filed with the US EPA and found 29 facilities in the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) that had serious quantities of ‘highly toxic’ chemicals on site.


The reporters then interviewed people living and working around the facilities to see if they knew about the chemicals. Even when they were aware that a chemical facility was nearby, they did not realize that they lived within the hazard area for an accidental chemical release. The article then goes on to explain how the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) has failed these communities.


Toxic Release COI


Of the nine highly hazardous chemicals identified in the articles, five are toxic release chemicals of interest under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) regulations. Three of the remaining four are flammable release COI. The remaining chemical, Toluene 2,4-diisocyanate, did not make the list in Appendix A. The toxic release chemicals are:


·             Chlorine

·             Anhydrous Ammonia

·             Formaldehyde

·             Hydrogen Fluoride

·             Sulfur Dioxide


Actually, I am assuming that the last two are anhydrous (and thus COI) rather than solutions. The article does not specify. For the purposes of this discussion we’ll go with that assumption.


The twenty-five facilities that have toxic release COI on hand report quantities in excess of the screening threshold quantities (STQ) list for those chemicals in Appendix A to the CFATS regulations. These 25 facilities should have submitted Top Screens and some number of them probably made the list of 7,000 high-risk chemical facilities.


Site Security Plans


While DHS has yet to publish its guidance on Site Security Plans (SSP), Section 27.230 of the CFATS regulations is clear that a response plan is one of the risk-based performance standards that must be included in any SSP. For any toxic release COI with a potential foran off-site effect I think that we can safely assume that the response plan must include actions taken to protect that off-site population at risk.


There are two common actions taken to protect off-site populations from releases of toxic chemicals; shelter in place or evacuation (though the chemical weapons destruction facility outside Anniston, AL has issued respirators to off site personnel to provide additional protection for either option). To be effective both of these options require notification of the potentially affected people and an appropriate response to that notification.


Emergency Notification


There are a wide variety of notification systems available to alert off site personnel to imminent threats of toxic chemical release. They include:


·             Door-to-door notification. This works well with small populations and does the best job of insuring that everyone affected gets the message. It is time consuming and it does put the notification personnel, usually law enforcement, at risk for toxic chemical exposure.

·             Sirens. This is the widest spread system for notifying large numbers of people. In many areas chemical notifications can be piggy-backed on existing storm/emergency alert systems at little or no added cost. There is little or no feedback to ensure that area residents receive and understand the message.

·             Reverse 911. An automated system to call telephones in the affected area to relay emergency response information. Newer systems coming on-line can do a mass broadcast to cell phones in the area or can use text messages instead of (or in addition to) voice messages. Again, there is little or no feedback to ensure receipt or comprehension of the message.


Appropriate Response to Emergency Notification


The only way to ensure that the bulk of the affected population responds appropriately to an emergency notification message is to conduct an education campaign ahead of time. This could be similar to the tornado or hurricane public service campaigns that are broadcast via multiple outlets before and during the appropriate storm seasons. Or the facility could conduct meetings with local residents to convey the same information.


In any case, the facility management and the local emergency response community have a legal responsibility (under EPCRA) to communicate the emergency response plan information to the affected public. That communication should include:


·             The nature of the chemical hazard;

·             The method of communication to be used to disseminate emergency information; and

·             The appropriate response to take in the event of a release.


None of the items identified above is considered chemical-terrorism vulnerability information (CVI). This means that there is no legitimate security reason to avoid making this communication.


DHS Inspection of SSP


Hopefully, the CFATS regulations will be more effective in requiring high-risk chemical facilities to communicate with their surrounding communities than has the EPCRA rules. The DHS site inspections and review of SSP’s should allow DHS to ensure that the required communication does take place on an ongoing basis; something that the EPA has never seriously attempted to do.

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