THE MAGAZINE

Chemical Facilities Tackle an Explosive Problem

By Megan Gates

The data could also inform the individuals living in the community, Anderson explained. “Those folks who are in the farming community know exactly where the ammonium nitrate is and exactly how it is stored, but those folks who live in town who do not farm for a living, but live very close to that facility, don’t even know what ammonium nitrate is,” he said.

The creation of a database could fall into line with the executive order, which has charged the working group with developing an enhanced information collection and sharing system to help agencies support “more informed decision-making, streamline reporting requirements, and reduce duplicative efforts.” But some speakers at the listening group sessions expressed concern that if information about hazardous chemicals were made available to the general public, it could fall into the wrong hands and potentially make facilities a target for terrorist attacks.

Technical Database

If a public database is too dangerous, Jay Brabson, an environmental engineer for the State of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, suggested creating a database for industry only to help new employees learn safety procedures and gain background knowledge from industry peers.

“Maybe a central technical center, or database, where technical information can be asked for and freely given concerning potential risks should be considered,” Brabson said. “Process safety questions should be encouraged from all sources and shared with nominal or no fees. It should not be considered a competitive advantage to have competing refineries or chemical processors blow up—that is a mark against the whole industry, not just the competitor.”

The working group is also evaluating best practices and methods for interagency collaboration through a pilot program in the New York and New Jersey region: the Effective Chemical Risk Management Project, Federal Region Two. Through the pilot program—the details of which are not yet public—the working group is developing an understanding of the risks in the region and ensuring that local responders have access to key information.

The pilot is looking at improving coordination of inspections through a shared inspection schedule, cross-training of inspectors, and “inter-agency referrals of possible regulatory noncompliance as it begins development of a unified federal approach for identifying and responding to risks in chemical facilities,” according to program documents.

Thus far, the pilot has identified a need for better engagement of facilities in the local planning process, additional training for first responders, more support for State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) and Local Emergency Planning Commissions (LEPCs), and improved data management and sharing.

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