201695 Chemical Security: Did Congress Safeguard Americans from Chemical Disasters?

Monday, November 9, 2009: 1:30 PM

Rick Hind , Legislative Director, Greenpeace, Washington, DC
Eight years after September 11th thousands of U.S. chemical plants remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks. More than 100 million Americans live in the shadow of chemical plants that use or store dangerous quantities of poison gases. According to the U.S. Army Surgeon General up to 2.4 million people could be injured or killed in an attack on just one of these facilities.

Since 2001 Congress has unsuccessfully tried to eliminate these vulnerabilities. Late in 2006 Congress passed a temporary law as a “rider” on the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) appropriations bill. The interim law is so weak it actually prohibits the DHS from requiring the use of safer technologies that would eliminate these risks. Congress must act quickly because the law expires on October 4, 2009.

Fortunately the 111th Congress is considering comprehensive legislation to correct the flaws in the temporary law. This includes ensuring that “high risk” plants switch to safer technologies, including safer chemicals that will eliminate these risks, building on the success of hundreds of plants that have converted to safer technologies since 9/11.

Not surprisingly the chemical industry pressed Congress to make the temporary law permanent. We will discuss whether Congress instead heeded the advice of Senator Obama in his 2006 floor statement, “by employing safer technologies, we can reduce the attractiveness of chemical plants as a target…Unfortunately, the chemical industry has been lobbying nonstop on this bill. This is wrong. We cannot allow chemical industry lobbyists to dictate the terms of this debate.”

Learning Objectives:
- Assess the effectiveness of a blue-green coalition in passing legislation that integrates homeland security with occupational health and safety and green technology. - Evaluate chemical seucrity legislation as to whether it promotes primary prevention in the form of safer and more secure chemicals and processes.

Keywords: Managing Risks, Legislative

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been a legislative advocate on this issue for almost a decade.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.