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Chemical plant safetyChemical plants provided incorrect information about toxic release risks: GAO

Published 30 July 2015

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends that federal agencies should more carefully verify information provided by chemical facilities and improve compliance with safety standards. DHS collected data on some 37,000 facilities handling dangerous chemicals, and identified 2,900 which were especially risky. Those plants, typically located near residential areas, posed more risk of mass casualty events in case of a terrorist- or accident-induced chemical release. The report criticizes DHS officials for relying on self-reported data — without checking and verifying the information chemical operators provided.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends that federal agencies should more carefully verify information provided by chemical facilities and improve compliance with safety standards.

ChemInfo reports the GAO analyzed the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, enacted by Congress in 2007 as concerns were growing that a voluntary, industry-developed safety measures to protect against potential terrorist threats to U.S. chemical plants were just not good enough. Under the act, DHS’s Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD) collected data on some 37,000 facilities handling dangerous chemicals, and identified 2,900 which were especially risky. Those plants, typically located near residential areas, posed more risk of mass casualty events in case of a terrorist- or accident-induced chemical release.

The report criticizes DHS officials for relying on self-reported data — without checking and verifying the information chemical operators provided. The GAO reports estimates that of the 6,400 facilities with some degree of toxic release threat, 2,700, or 44 percent, incorrectly reported nearby areas which could be vulnerable to short-term chemical exposure.

By verifying that the data ISCD used in its risk assessment are accurate, ISCD could better ensure it has identified the nation’s high-risk chemical facilities,” the report says.

The report also noted that ISCD does not have procedures in place for facilities not in compliance with agency-approved security plans. GAO inspectors reviewed sixty-nine facilities as of February 2015, but thirty-four had not yet meet one or more deadlines for implementing security measures.

Given that ISCD will need to inspect about 2,900 facilities in the future, having documented processes and procedures could provide ISCD more reasonable assurance that facilities implement planned measures and address security gaps,” the report said.

DHS agreed with the recommendations and outlined steps to address them.

— Read more in Critical Infrastructure Protection: DHS Action Needed to Verify Some Chemical Facility Information and Manage Compliance Process, GAO-15-614 (July 2015)