THE MAGAZINE

Chemical Facilities Tackle an Explosive Problem

By Megan Gates

Alongside the working group’s efforts, ATF and DHS are also considering sharing information with stakeholders through changes to their agencies’ policies. ATF is considering sharing explosive licensing data with vetted members of the SERCs who have explosives storage in their jurisdiction. “ATF is also working to update regulations to require any person who stores explosive material to notify local fire officials on an annual basis,” according to a working group progress report, to help first responders develop emergency response plans to handle the explosives as safely as possible should a disaster occur.

In addition, DHS is considering sharing certain Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) data with vetted members of the SERCs, LEPCs, and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs). Currently, that information is available only to personnel in federal agencies, state and local government, and state fusion centers.

The working group is also looking at methods that state and federal agencies can use to identify chemical facilities that haven’t met their regulatory obligations or are not in compliance with safety and security requirements. It plans to use these findings to increase “federal efficiency and decrease the burden to those required to submit information by creating a single data input point for regulated or potentially regulated chemical facilities, so that data provided by a facility can be provided once and used by all relevant federal agencies,” according to a progress report on the working group.

This will help federal agencies keep track of inspection information, potentially make complying with regulations easier for companies, and prevent future discrepancies in inspections, such as the lack of inspections at the West Fertilizer Company from the 1980s through the time of the explosion.

Using information from the pilot program and listening sessions, the working group plans to create a standard operating procedure for a unified federal approach with state, local, and tribal assets to identify and respond to risks to chemical facilities.

Safer Alternatives 

Christina Morgan, recommendations specialist for the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, asked that the working group examine the potential benefits of alternative regulatory regimes for improving chemical facility safety at high-hazard facilities. She suggested a safety case regime, which would require “high-hazard facilities to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the regulator, that they can operate safely and in conformance with the latest industry standards and achieve the lowest practical risk levels,” Morgan said. “This approach provides industry the opportunity to tailor regulations to its specific facilities with the goal of continuous risk reduction and major accident prevention.”

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