February 17, 2007

Chemical Plants and Security

The Washington Monthly carries a fascinating and worrying article at the moment about the security within the United States of chemical plants. At the moment it is perfectly possible that a terrorist could blow up a chemical installation- say the one near Philadelphia and because of the particular chemicals involved produce a cloud of poisonous fumes that could kill large numbers of people. The article points out that there are plenty of ways of alleviating that danger- for example by mandating the use of different chemicals in various processes. Some commentators, like Salon's Joe Conason have pointed to the fact that Dick Cheney's son in law who has worked for the administration in homeland security has also lobbied on behalf of his law firm against regulation of the chemical industry to secure it against terrorism. Others like Senator James Inhofe argued that the Democrats were using 9/11 as a way to regulate and extend the power of government. Senator Inhofe's concern for small government seems to me to be a false one- there is no greater duty for government than protection of its citizens which is why clean water standards and clean air standards are pretty much universally supported throughout the world. In this case as well, the argument is clear. There is no reason why a private company should be concerned about terrorist attacks on its facilities- afterall its concern is rightly for shareholder profit and if the chemical plant is blown up that's lost, no matter how damaging the outcome is to the surrounding population. It is the concern of government that that not happen as there is a public good- avoiding the deaths of thousands and possibly more of its citizens. Regulation therefore is needed in this area and should not be prevented- the options are well laid out in the Washington Monthly.

Incidentally does anyone know the United Kingdom's situation in this regard- I'm picking up here on American evidence but it would be interesting to know whether British chemical plants and other installations which have the capability of causing massive damage if they were attacked are similarly laxly defended or not.


Matthew Sinclair said...

I've heard of studies suggesting our nuclear facilities could use more defence but not much about chemicals plants etc.

When I first read the story which became the West Midlands soldier kidnap story, early reports in the Standard, it was hinted it might be an attack on chemicals plants and other infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

Some very interesting discussion on chemical plant safety