Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reader Comment 08-26-09 HR 3258 IST

Scott Jensen from the American Chemistry Council left an interesting comment on my earlier blog about the IST provisions of HR 3258. The comments are relatively long analysis of the IST issues associated with water treatment facilities. Any one interested in this issue should certainly read his entire comment. I would like to expand on a couple of points that Scott makes in his comment. Are Substitute Chemicals Safe? Scott writes that “it would be a mistake to believe all facilities can be secured by simply requiring them to use different chemicals”. The easiest substitution to effect to replace chlorine gas would be the use of sodium hypochlorite, essentially industrial strength bleach. Scott notes that you need to use eight times as much bleach as chlorine gas in disinfection operations. This is because you need the same number of chlorine molecules per unit volume of water regardless of your source for chlorine. Since hypochlorite is less stable than chlorine gas, it is typically not shipped in rail cars. This means that unless the bleach is produced on site it will be shipped to the site in tank wagons over the road. This will increase the number of truck shipments of hazardous chemicals to the site. In turn, this will inevitably increase the incidence traffic accidents that result in the release of industrial strength bleach. Anyone that has spilled laundry bleach, a diluted version of the same chemical, will understand the types of problems that will cause. Another side issue of the instability problem is that sodium hypochlorite is a very reactive chemical. Chemical reactions with mineral acids or ammonia are very violent. They produce large amounts of chlorine gas very quickly. The liberation of that gas produces quick rises in pressure that resemble explosions. If either of these chemicals is introduced into a sodium chlorite storage tank in volume, either as the result of an accident or an intentional act, the pressure rise is likely to result in the rupture of the storage tank releasing a cloud of chlorine gas. Collateral damage from that rupture will include additional equipment damage on site and probable off-site environmental affects. Additionally, the facility will likely be put out of operation for an extended period of time while the problem is cleaned up and the storage tank replaced. Where that facility is a community water treatment facility, that means that the community will be without potable water while the facility is put back together and the water system purged. This does not mean that sodium hypochlorite is a poor substitute for chlorine, just that the problems associated with that chemical have to be addressed. There will be facilities where the cost of addressing those problems is too high to justify the switch. Unfortunately, it would seem that the facilities with the highest chlorine use rates would be the least likely to be able to switch to hypochlorite. Problems with IST Mandates Scott points out that:
“By placing the final decision with the state agencies, and by requiring consideration of "factors appropriate to the security, public health, and environmental missions of covered water systems," the bill has addressed some concerns related to IST mandates.”
One of the concerns with the IST mandates in the chemical facility security bill (HR 2868) is the lack of IST expertise in DHS and the wide range of industrial backgrounds that such expertise would have to address in chemical facilities. Water treatment facilities will be using a smaller range of chemicals and processes, so it will be easier to establish the requisite expertise within the agency evaluating the IST application. Since the State agency making the evaluation is already familiar with the operation of water treatment facilities, it will be even easier to ensure that those agencies understand the systems being evaluated. Even so, there are no clear cut guidelines that the State agencies, or the EPA for Wyoming and Washington, DC, are required to use to evaluate the potential IST measures that they may require to be implemented. This problem is compounded by the fact that facilities are required to ignore cost factors in reporting the potential feasibility of the substitute measures. Cost factors will be reported separately from the feasibility issue leaving the State agency to decide how those cost factors will affect their implementation decision. One of the reasons that the drafters included this separation of costs from feasibility was that they intended that the grant program included in the authorization section of the legislation would go a long way towards alleviating the cost problem. Unfortunately, no one knows if this will be enough money or how that money will be allocated. Relying on the availability of these grants in making implementation mandates will likely put a number of facilities in the position of being required to make changes that they cannot pay for. This brings us to another of the points that Scott makes in his comment (and I made in the original blog) “the bill provides no way for a utility to appeal the state’s determination”. The lack of an appeal provision makes is a political certainty that there will be decisions made that cannot be implemented. Continuing the Discussion Scott’s comments provide a reasoned look at some of the issues that argue against including the current mandatory IST implementation language in HR 3258. Hopefully, this type discussion, on both sides of the issue, will allow for the development of reasonable IST provisions in the final bill.

No comments:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */