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Natsios Young Architects

27 December 2005

Birdseyes from

Related New York Times editorial, 27 December 2005:


Time for Chemical Plant Security

It is hard to believe, but more than four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress has still not acted to make chemical plants, one of the nation's greatest terrorist vulnerabilities, safer. Last week, Senators Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, unveiled a bipartisan chemical plant security bill. We hope that parts of the bill will be improved as it works its way through Congress, though even in its current form the bill would be a significant step.

If terrorists attacked a chemical plant, the death toll could be enormous. A single breached chlorine tank could, according to the Department of Homeland Security, lead to 17,500 deaths, 10,000 severe injuries and 100,000 hospitalizations. Many chemical plants have shockingly little security to defend against such attacks.

After 9/11, there were immediate calls for the government to impose new security requirements on these plants. But the chemical industry, which contributes heavily to political campaigns, has used its influence in Washington to block these efforts. Senator Collins, the chairwoman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, has held hearings on chemical plant security, and has now come up with this bill with both Republican and Democratic sponsors.

The bill requires chemical plants to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop security and emergency response plans. The Department of Homeland Security would be required to develop performance standards for chemical plant security. In extreme cases, plants that do not meet the standards could be shut down.

Until recently, it appeared that the bill might include pre-emption language, which would block states from coming up with their own chemical security rules. That would have made the bill worse than no bill at all. New Jersey has just imposed its own chemical plant security rules, and other states may follow. These states should be free to protect their citizens more vigorously than the federal government does, if they choose. To Senator Collins's and Senator Lieberman's credit, the bill now expressly declares that it does not prevent states from doing more.

The bill's biggest weakness is that it does not address the issue of alternative chemicals. In many cases, chemical plants in highly populated areas are using dangerous chemicals when there are safer, cost-effective substitutes. A strong bill would require chemical companies to investigate alternatives, and to use them when the cost is not prohibitive. Senator Lieberman has said that he hopes to strengthen the bill's approach to alternative chemicals, which would be an important improvement.

The burden now falls on the House of Representatives to pass a bill that is at least as tough, and that does not pre-empt the states' authority in this area. A leading antiterrorism expert has described the nation's chemical plants as "15,000 weapons of mass destruction littered around the United States." The American people have waited long enough to be protected from these homegrown W.M.D.'s.

The Keuhne Chemical Plant, Kearney New Jersey, is judged to operate one of the most dangerous chemical plants in the US.

Easy Targets

February 15, 2003

Efforts to shore up America's infrastructure against another terrorist attack have largely ignored a critical and highly vulnerable sector of the economy: the chemical industry.


On an overcast September afternoon in South Kearny, N.J., Frank and Rosa Ferreira parked their white Volvo across the street from the Kuehne Chemical plant on Hackensack Avenue. Armed with a handheld video camera, the two environmental activists wandered around the perimeter capturing images of the plant's guard gates and security fence. They zoomed in on large storage tanks labeled "sodium hydrochloride" in bold black letters.

A panoramic view of the fence shows security weaknesses in certain areas, particularly at three entrance and exit gates, which are loosely held closed by chains. No padlocks are noticeable. Despite scanning a couple hundred yards of fence, the Ferreiras didn't pick up any security personnel on the 20-minute video, which they posted on their Web site, Two days later, on Sept. 5, 2002, the Ferreiras returned. Again, they photographed large chemical storage containers and idle tanker trucks sitting a few feet away from the fence. And again, no security personnel approached the couple.

Driving along the Pulaski Skyway, Frank Ferreira noticed another weakness at the facility: It sits directly underneath the 1.3-mile bridge connecting Jersey City to Newark. The plant, which produces chlorine and bleach for cities along the Eastern seaboard, is a mere three miles from Newark International Airport and five miles from Lower Manhattan. It wouldn't take much, Ferreira says, for someone to stop on the skyway and penetrate the storage tanks using a rifle or other weapon.

"A few days before we went down there, we saw an article in our local paper that Greenpeace was looking at the safety of the chemical industry," Ferreira recalls. "They focused on the Kuehne plant. The article talked about documents filed with the Environmental Protection Agency showing that a chemical release could threaten the lives of 12 million people in a 16-mile radius. We went down there expecting to see something like Fort Knox - something you couldn't penetrate." He was wrong. "It was like a ghost town. . . . Once we finished taping, I turned to my wife and said, 'There is something terribly wrong here.'"

The Most Dangerous US Chemical Facilities:

Keuhne Chemical Plant




Looking North.

Looking East.

Looking South.

Looking West.