Chemical safety bill testimony heard

This week the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs heard testimony on S.2996, titled “Continuing Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Security Act of 2010.” This bill would extend the effective date of current chemical security regulations until 2015.

In the House of Representatives, a bill has passed that contains provisions for Inherently Safer Technology (IST). The Senate bill does not contain these provisions.

IST regulations seek to force companies to replace existing methods and raw materials with those deemed to be safer. But the legislation may not produce its intended effect. Stephen Poorman of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates stated in his written testimony: “Inherent safety is a superficially simple but truthfully very complex concept, and one that is inherently unsuited to regulation. Any IST mandate is bound to create situations that will actually increase or transfer overall risks.”

His testimony gave three examples of where a change to a process mandated by IST would actually increase the overall risk. For example, a process might use a toxic catalyst. Eliminating the use of the catalyst would mean the company has to increase the temperature and pressure of the process, two factors that work to increase risk. The end result might be a process with more risk than the original process.

In her opening remarks, Senator Susan M. Collins gave another example of how IST might force more hazardous trucks on highways:

According to one water utility located in an isolated area of the Northwest, if Congress were to force it to replace its use of gaseous chlorine with sodium hypochlorite, then the utility would have to use as much as seven times the current quantity of treatment chemicals to achieve comparable water quality results. In turn, the utility would have to arrange for many more bulk chemical deliveries, by trucks, into the watershed. The greater quantities of chemicals and increased frequency of truck deliveries would heighten the risk of an accident resulting in a chemical spill into the watershed. In fact, the accidental release of sodium hypochlorite into the watershed would likely cause greater harm to soils, vegetation and streams than a gaseous chlorine release in this remote area.

IST regulations and mandates would also be very expensive, forcing manufacturers and even local water utilities to increase their prices, all for something that may not reduce risk. Furthermore, as Sen. Collins remarked, “The increased cost of a mandatory IST program may force chemical companies to simply transfer their operations overseas, costing American workers thousands of jobs.”

Testimony is available on the committee’s hearing page. More information on this topic is available on this site at Chemical facility anti-terrorism standards.

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