“The nature of the chemical bond is the problem at the heart of all chemistry” – Bryce L. Crawford, Jr.
“Basically, these facilities (hazardous chemical facilities) are stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all around the country” – then Senator Barack Obama, 2006
On 12 August 2015, two powerful explosions occurred in a warehouse in the Chinese port of Tianjin, killing approximately 173 people, injuring hundreds and sending a shockwave to nearby residences. The Chinese Earthquake Networks Center reported the first blast generated shock waves equivalent to 3 tons of TNT; and the second blast generated the equivalent of 21 tons of TNT. (Rando FG. “China’s chemical dragon”, CBNW, 2016/01, p.38-41.)
The two fiery explosions liberated toxic plumes of Toxic Industrial Chemicals (TICs) generated from stored chemicals, including sodium cyanide, toluene dissocyanate (TDI), ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate (highly explosive); flammables and highly reactive metals, including sodium and magnesium.
Some recent events in China also reveal the ubiquitous inadequacies of chemical sector safety and security. In April of 2015, a paraxylene (PX) plant explosion and fire in Zhangzhou resulted in casualties requiring hospitalization and medical treatment. Contaminated casualties and chemical hazards were so great that officials deployed 3,000 of the Peoples Liberation Army CBRN troops to perform chemical sampling and monitoring, decontamination, hazard mitigation duties, extensive clean-up and recovery operations. Hundreds of emergency services personnel were required to conduct fire suppression, search and rescue and emergency medical operations.
In an age of expanding globalization of commerce and industry, and with disparate safety and security standards for the chemical sector, it becomes inherently clear that the US Chemical Manufacturers’ Association motto of ” Responsible Care” should be applied internationally. The US and Western nations have had ample experience with severe chemical incidents and with the looming threat of state-sponsored or non-supported chemical terrorism, chemical manufacturers and homeland security officials are striving to improve chemical sector-specific standards, laws and countermeasures.
However, in emerging nations, and even in large industrialized nations such as China and
Russia, chemical sector safety and security remain woefully inadequate, and their facilities vulnerable to terrorism and catastrophic failures.Industrial chemicals provide terrorist organizations and factions with effective and readily accessible materials to develop improvised explosives, incendiaries, and poisons. Many public and corporate emergency responders are unaware of the magnitude of the threat of terrorism to commerce and industry. At each phase of petroleum and chemical production, storage, transportation, and distribution, vulnerabilities exist which may be exploited by terrorist
The threat of cyberattacks against the chemical sector is very real and may result in catastrophic failures and releases into the environment. Addressing areas such as process safety, chemical incompatibilities, emergency response systems integrated training and exercises among stakeholders in the public and private sectors, comprehensive hazard vulnerability assessments, adequate warning and notification systems, accurate risk communication and public information, and improved cyber and physical security measures will do much to avert, mitigate, respond to, and recover from industrial chemical sector disasters and their aftermath
One such program is the US Department of Homeland Security’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). The DHS CFATS program identifies and regulates high-risk chemical facilities to ensure that they have security measures in place to reduce the risks associated with these chemicals of concern. Initially authorized by Congress in 2007, the program uses a dynamic multi-tiered risk assessment process and requires facilities identified as high-risk to meet and maintain performance-based security standards appropriate to the facilities and the risks they pose.
DHS chemical security inspectors work in all 50 states to help ensure facilities have security measures in place to meet CFATS requirements. DHS has released an interim report final rule that imposes comprehensive federal security regulations for high risk facilities in possession of specific chemicals of interest. The rule establishes risk-based performance standards for the security of US chemical facilities. It requires covered chemical facilities to prepare Security Vulnerability Assessments (SVAs), which identify facility security vulnerabilities, and to develop and implement Site Security Plans (SSPs), which include measures that satisfy the identified risk-based performance standards. Covered chemical facilities that have successfully implemented their approved SSP and have passed a CFATS inspection will be considered compliant with standard.
Our multinational industrial chemical sector must strive to attain the highest safety and security standards to protect life, the environment and infrastructures.