Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Top Screen Problems II

Earlier this week I looked at the Top Screen problems associated with chemicals of interest that periodically showed up at a facility because of intermittent manufacture of products. Security for these intermittent chemicals of interest (iCOI) can be planned for; ramping up security when the material is scheduled to be in the facility and then dropping back down to normal after it is consumed. A more difficult issue to deal with is the one time COI event. We had a problem one time at a facility where I worked with bacterial contamination of a number of our storage tanks. We had to bring in a tank wagon load of industrial strength hydrogen peroxide to conduct a detailed clean out of our process equipment, transfer lines and the storage tanks. This was a one time problem and we never had to repeat the process. These one time uses of chemicals are not an uncommon occurrence at specialty chemical manufacturers. If the chemicals are on the list of DHS chemicals of interest (COI) and the quantity received is in excess of the screening threshold quantity, then the facility will be required to submit a Top Screen. Then 60-days after the chemical is gone, the facility will need to submit a second Top Screen to show that the chemical has cleared their system. During that 60-day period DHS will be evaluating the Top Screen information. For facilities already on the list of covered facilities, they will be looking to see if an increase in Tier level might be required. For currently unlisted facilities, DHS will be evaluating the Top Screen to see if the facility is at high-risk for terrorist attack. A positive finding in either case will result in an SVA notification letter being sent to the facility. The subsequent Top Screen will not necessarily stop the process. There may need to be significant back and forth between DHS and the facility under the current scheme to essentially erase the initial Top Screen submission. This is not particularly efficient for either DHS or the facility. There are two potential ways to handle this situation. First DHS could change the wording of the CFATS regulations to make it clear that a one time possession of a COI that lasts only for a limited time need not be reported on a Top Screen. This would certainly be the easiest way to deal with the problem, easing the potential burden on DHS and many facilities. It would, however, put into place a loophole that would be open to abuse and deny DHS information necessary to monitor and quantify the extent of the problem. The second method of handling the situation would be to modify the Top Screen form to allow for notification that the possession was a one-time issue and that the COI has already been consumed. The 60-day time limit for Top Screen submission would be the time limit for clearing the COI from the facility. If a one-time COI were cleared within that time limit, then no additional action would be required by the facility or DHS. A subsequent Top Screen showing that the same COI was used at the facility would trigger the iCOI rules discussed in the earlier blog posting. One advantage to the second procedure would be that the requirement for filing a Top Screen would act as a formal notification to the facility management that the chemical in question had special security concerns attached to its presence at the facility. The short term presence of the COI should not place the facility at a real high-risk of terrorist attack, but it will temporarily increase the facility risk. This should cause management to at least consider the need for the addition of short term security measures to protect the facility. These one-time COI are probably not a huge problem, but the potential solutions are so easy to affect that it makes economic sense for both the regulator and the regulated community to proceed with fixing the problem.

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