Chemical plant securityCritics charge DHS chemical plant security program a failure

Published 3 August 2012

In 2006 Congress passed the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, or CFATS, which set security standards chemical plants had to meet; there are 4,400 chemical plants covered by CFATS, of which 120 are considered especially dangerous, as a chemical release– accidental or as a result of a terrorist act — in any one of them would cause hundreds of thousands of casualties; after four-and-half years and $480 millions spent on CFATS, not a single plant of the 4,400 had been fully inspected; of the 120 riskiest plants, 11 had a preliminary inspection done; not a single site security plan has been approved

The 9/11 attacks exposed the vulnerability if the United States to terrorist attacks. Security experts agree that chemical plants pose extreme risks to the safety of Americans, and that a release of toxic clouds as a result of an accident or a terrorist attack would kill hundreds of thousands.

Yet, until 2006, the chemical industry fought tooth and nail against any federal regulation of chemical plant security standards. Fat contributions to the campaign coffers of politicians ensured that the industry would be allowed to get away with what was called voluntary, industry-designed security measures. Industry insiders involved in formulating these rules described them as “window dressing” – but even that was not enough: since the measure were voluntary, most chemical plants opted not to implement them.

In 2006 Congress finally passed the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, or CFATS, which developed minimal security standards chemical plants had to meet, and authorized DHS to inspect plants for compliance, and shut them down if they did not comply.

The measure has been on the books for five years now, but its application  by DHS has been criticized as ineffective or worse. CBS News reports that after four-and-a-half years and $480 million dollars spent on CFATS, more than 90 percent of the riskiest chemical plants – those which pose the greatest risks to life and health of millions of Americans — have not even been inspected for compliance.

“As the program stands today, it’s not effectively protecting the American people from high-risk chemical facilities that may be vulnerable,” Todd Keilwas the assistant secretary at DHS responsible for overseeing CATS from late 2009 to February 2012, told CBS News.

An internal review of the program found that:

  • There had not been a single inspection of a chemical plant
  • No plant has a site security plan
  • The review also found “…a catastrophic failure to ensure personal and professional accountability”

Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that as of the end of June 2012, not a single plant of the 4,400 chemical plants covered by CFATS had been fully inspected.

Rand Beers, DHS undersecretary in charge of the program, told CBS News that 120 chemical plants pose the most severe risk — and that of those 120, his program had done preliminary inspections on eleven.

What the American public has gotten for $480 million is a map of the vulnerabilities that this country has with respect to chemical facilities, and the process of developing the plans to make those sites safer for the American public,” Beers said. “And we have made significant progress in that regard.”

When CBS News told Beers that four-and-a half-years into the program, there were no inspections of chemical plants, no approved site security plans, and, on top of that, a large number of inspectors who were said to be unqualified for the jobs they were supposed to be doing, Beers responded:

We certainly face some management challenges. And I think we have, as a result of the good hard work of the people who are associated with this program, we are moving forward properly according to the basic risk and management standards that are set by independent organizations.”