Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Buzz Continues about Chemical Security 101

It has been just about two weeks since the Center for American Progress (CAP) published Chemical Security 101, a report that claims that most of the 101 ‘most dangerous’ chemical facilities in the United States can reduce the risk to their neighbors (millions of neighbors) by substituting less hazardous chemicals or processes for the dangerous chemicals they currently use. That report continues to get attention in the press. Extensive News Coverage As I noted in my earlier blog (see: “New IST Report from Center for American Progress”) newspapers serving areas around these facilities have picked up the story. In addition to the five newspapers I reported on in that blog, I have also seen news stories from a number of cities (Tampa, Charlotte, Warwick, Denver, Fort Worth, Torrence, and Contra Costa). I am also sure that I have not seen all of the articles. The articles that I have read have been well balanced. Where they have been able to talk to representatives of their local facility, the articles have included some discussion of why the recommended changes have not been made. Where facilities have refused to talk to the press, those communities have heard only one side of the story. Many of these news stories have been accompanied by on-line reader comments. My impression has been that most of those comments have shown a negative bias towards the CAP report. A few of those comments question the wisdom of discussing such weaknesses in the press, but most just downplay the potential threat. Internet News and Blogs There has also been coverage on a number of internet based publications that are not tied to a particular location (,, and Additionally, this has been talked about on a number of local blogs (ClayCord, Salt Lake Crawler, and Unfair Park). Even the national security blog, Security Debrief, has chimed in. Again, I have inevitably missed some of the discussion. Political Manifesto In general this must be gratifying to Paul Orum, the report author, and the Center for American Progress. This report is, after all, a political manifesto; an attempt to influence the political discussion to accomplish the clearly identified objectives outlined in the report (pages 25-8). And this is a well crafted manifesto. Orum has done a good job of identifying the problem in broad, easily understandable strokes. He has been careful not to over state his claims, careful to not extend the claim for potential for chemical substitution to all of the facilities. The only thing I have to object to is the fact that he glosses over the potential problems that may have to be overcome to implement his suggested substitutions at individual facilities. That complaint isn’t really fair; this is a political document not a technical discussion of inherently safer technology. There is one particularly interesting political touch in this report. In both Appendix A (list of 101 Most Dangerous) and Appendix B (list of the 202 ‘additional’ facilities), along with the other identifying information Orum has included the listing of congressional districts that would be ‘affected’. This clearly provides a target list for further political action. One Shot or a Campaign From the coverage that I have seen to date, I am not sure that this report is having the desired effect. But, we must remember that this report does not exist in a vacuum. There are a number of other efforts being made in the same direction. There will also be an anti-IST campaign conducted by many in the chemical industry. This year, I don’t think that it will be sufficient to stop a chemical security bill with IST provisions.

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