Obama Calls for Greater Security at Chemical Plants
Monday, February 27, 2006
CHICAGO - U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today announced he will introduce legislation to better secure one of the most vulnerable gaps in our homeland security-chemical plants.
"There may be no greater failure of our government than the fact that we have done almost nothing to secure one of America's most vulnerable targets - the 15,000 chemical plants in America," said Obama. "These chemical plants represent some of the most attractive targets for terrorists looking to cause widespread death and destruction. Unfortunately, at many of the chemical plants in our nation, the security is light, the facilities are easily entered, and the contents are deadly."
There are 110 facilities in the United States where a worst-case scenario attack on a chemical plant could threaten more than one million people, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Two of these facilities are within Chicago's city limits. Illinois has at least 10 facilities where a large-scale chemical release could threaten more than a million people, and an additional 20 facilities where such a release could threaten more than 100,000 people.
Despite this, security at chemical plants is completely voluntary by plant owners. There are no federal standards to require chemical plants to protect against terrorist attacks. While a number of plants have taken important steps to improve security, there are still major gaps, and there has never been a comprehensive security assessment of chemical plants across the country.
In Chicago, an investigative report by a local television station found major security problems at a number of Chicago plants including broken-down fencing near roads and unguarded access points that allowed people to walk right up to large chemical tanks.
"A successful strike on a chemical plant would require much less sophistication and fewer participants than the 9/11 terrorist plot and could cause a thousand times more devastation," Obama said. "Voluntary homeland security is simply not an option. If the protection of a potential terrorist target that could devastate the lives of millions isn't the federal government's business, nothing is."
Industrial chemicals, such as chlorine, phosgene, methyl bromide, hydrochloric and various other acids are routinely stored near cities in multi-ton quantities. These chemicals are extremely hazardous and several were used as weapons in World War I. An attack on toxic chemical plants is behind only biological and nuclear attacks in terms of possible loss of life, according to a 2002 Brookings Institution Report.
Senator Obama is joining Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to introduce tough legislation that would establish security requirements for chemical plants. The EPA and the Department of Homeland Security would identify high-priority chemical threats and establish security regulations. Each plant would have to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop a prevention, preparedness, and response plan. The Lautenberg- Obama legislation also would promote the use of safer technology in dealing with toxic chemicals.
"Even before the tragedy of 9/11, the security of the nation's chemical plants had come into serious question. Under the Bush Administration, this country's chemical plants have gone largely unprotected, giving terrorists the chance to launch an attack that could cause serious harm," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg. "Congress must now act in the absence of leadership from President Bush. The safety of the American people is at stake. The Administration's deference to the oil and chemical industries has prevented strong, meaningful chemical security legislation from being enacted."
"Safety regulations can be implemented in a way that is flexible enough for the industry yet stringent enough to protect the American people," Senator Obama said. "It is long past time to put the security of our nation ahead of special interests or politics. Now is the time to act to protect our citizens."