Chemical Plants

September 26, 2001

U.S. chemical plants are vulnerable to acts of terrorism. But simple electrical outages are a more common threat. In 2000 alone, there were about 240 chemical releases caused by electric power interruptions, according to a report just released by EPA's Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office. Causes of outages range from rolling blackouts to earthquakes, storms, and lightning strikes. The short report gives journalists insights on chemical plant operations and potential strategies to lessen vulnerabilities.

To date, there have been no terrorist attacks on any U.S. chemical plants. But "accidents" routinely kill, injure, and damage property. Although industry criticizes the statistics, Chemical Safety Board analysis has suggested that some 25,000 chemical releases, fires, and explosions each year kill an average of roughly 33 people, and injure another 1,000. Just under half the incidents involved transport of chemicals, rather than stationary plants. Nobody knows how many people were killed in the 1984 Bhopal disaster, but it was probably at least 2,000 -- a clue as to how disastrous either an accident or terrorist attack could be.
  • NEWS DATE: Officials at the American Chemistry Council were scheduled to address chemical plant vulnerability in a posting on theirWeb site during the week of Sept. 24, 2001: ACC media, Jeff Van, 703-741-5802.
  • Congress directed the Department of Justice to study site security at chemical plants and to assess their vulnerability to terrorism and ways to reduce it, but DoJ apparently has made little progress: DoJ media contact, Charles Miller, 202-514-2008. The mandate was in the Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act of 1999. Perspective from OMBwatch.
  • CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has published "Industrial Chemicals and Terrorism: Human Health Threat Analysis, Mitigation, and Prevention." (Note: Although the report was online 9/21/01, it appeared to have been taken down by 9/24/01). CDC media are directing all inquiries to the Department of Health and Human Services, Tony Jewell, 202-690-6343.
  • Colorado State University: Dr. Anthony Tu, 970-491-1591.

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