Chemical Security Programs Affected by Government Shutdown

CFATS is an essential defensive program to monitor the security of the chemicals used in the U.S. CFATS stands for the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards. The program is run by the Department of Homeland Security and is vitally important because chemicals can be used in bombs and chemical attacks.

To avoid giving terrorists and possibly drug dealers access to the raw materials that are used in the manufacture of chemicals, chemical facilities, like manufacturing plants, distribution centers, etc., are supposed to be actively monitored by security personnel who are trained in chemical security.

Fertilizer chemicals were purchased to blow up the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building. Chemicals are in every medication you take, including sensitive heart medication, and other pharmaceuticals that mean life or death to those to take them.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement to Global Security Newswire Friday that the incident at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, “brought into focus the need to secure dangerous chemicals against accidental or malicious release or detonation.

Imagine if a terrorist was able to insert a poisonous ingredient in a statin manufacturing plant – over 15 million Americans now take statins to reduce their cholesterol.   Or imagine a poison ingredient put into pool chemicals, or something like putting water into jet fuel. Think catastrophe!

In fact, CFATS was just geared up because of a Presidential Executive Order issued in August, 2013, after the deadly blast in West, Texas that killed 14, most of them firefighters.  The order instructed federal agencies to review safety rules and create new strategies for plants that store hazardous materials. The order also included a review of potential new guidelines to improve storage and handling of ammonium nitrate, the explosive material that caused the West. Texas fertilizer plant explosion in April 2013.

Already this week, chemical companies that had DHS inspections scheduled for this week received notice that the site visits would be postponed indefinitely. Likewise, the review of security plan documents is also expected to be frozen, as DHS employees who normally do this work have been furloughed.

A critical meeting scheduled for this week, which included industry leaders, DHS, EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials  was canceled as a result of the government shutdown, which creates prolonged uncertainty for industry regarding what new regulations they might have to comply with and whether companies will have another opportunity to weigh in on possible changes.

Now the program has been shutdown and critical employees furloughed.

Chemical security is a critical chokepoint because of the potential for major disasters, whether accidental or intentional.

Security programs should be immune from political shutdowns that threaten the safety and security of the entire country.