Canadian chemical association takes active role in developing security

IN THE wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States September 11, the Canadian Chemical Producers Association (CCPA) has taken an active role in dealing with the menace of global terrorism, both domestically and cross-border, according to CCPA information.

“We have segmented the terrorism/security issue into site security, transportation security, product stewardship, and US border access/security,” says Brian Wastle, CCPA's vice-president for Responsible Care. “Site security is the most obvious aspect — terrorists attacking a chemical plant with calamitous effects on a community.”

CCPA's members believe that communities situated near their operations have a right to know the risks in the event of a worst-case scenario, although post 9/11, this attitude of transparency creates some dilemmas. Does a free exchange of information give would-be terrorists a blueprint for committing an atrocity with many civilian casualties?

“We have a potential conflict here, because Responsible Care has always promoted transparency,” Wastle says. “That's a calculated risk. In the United States, chemical plants are still communicating their worst-case scenarios, but they are no longer putting them on the Web. Why broadcast this kind of information and make it easy for someone in, say, Afghanistan to detect vulnerabilities that can be exploited? So chemical companies are reviewing the kind of material they post to their Websites.”

Canadian companies didn't follow the online full-disclosure route, mainly due to a lag in technology, rather than any deliberate intent. Some CCPA members were, however, taking people on plant tours and telling them what was in specific tanks and details of security arrangements. Since September 11, this situation has changed, according to CCPA.

Graham Creedy, CCPA's senior manager for Responsible Care, says that associations must now be more discriminating about prospective new members, determine why exactly they want to join, and if they have the kind of background that suggests a rationale for an interest in community protection.

“We also encourage dialogue at the leadership-group level to find out what members are doing, but we are not setting any standards for security measures,” says Creedy. “At the moment, there is not a high threat level out there that we can see for Canadian chemical plants. But if that situation should change, we are ready to move to a higher security level.”

The true extent of the terrorist threat to Canadian operations isn't clear, but Canada could well be a target for terrorists, because most companies are affiliates of US-based multinationals. Wastle and others in the chemical industry see the present heightened security awareness as an opportunity to finally get some serious federal government action on community emergency preparedness.

The Government of Canada has been weak in this area and CCPA's members have had to fight to get emergency planning for communities that are indifferent (at best) or resistant (at worst) to these safeguards, the association says. CCPA's Process Safety Management Committee has encouraged Environment Canada to adopt a hazardous site inventory and control system. This is happening, based on an approach developed by the Conseil régional des accidents industriels majeurs du Montréal Métropolitain (CRAIM), a group of companies in Montreal East's chemical and petroleum refinery cluster.

“We support these measures, but we insist that they be handled in ways that aren't disruptive for CCPA member-companies and communities that are well prepared to handle emergencies,” Wastle says. “A large part of our effort is a proactive lobbying to convince the federal government to get a handle on its responsibilities in emergency planning.”

CCPA also is participating with the Coalition for Secure and Trade-Efficient Borders in upgrading and providing information to the government on the economic and security aspects of what to do should rail tracks, tunnels, or bridges be put out of commission by a terrorist attack, or any other disruptive incident.

There are ways to improve security while improving the cross-border flow of goods. If people and commodities are thoroughly checked out before they leave a plant, this means less screening has to be done at the border. Sophisticated identification processes can speed up the flow of cross-border traffic. There are those who believe that the terrorism threat can be used as leverage to solve the chronic inefficiencies at border crossings, which existed long before September 11, according to CCPA.

The process of transporting chemicals across the Canada-US border hasn't changed significantly since September 11, says Dave Goffin, CCPA's vice-president of business and economics. “What we found immediately after September 11 was that shipments of chemicals from some companies were held up for long periods of time. However, the back-up was never so great that it affected production in plants. Although the chemical sector suffered the same hold-ups as other companies, everything was back to normal within a week or so.

“There was a period after that when there was an alert in the United States. The American Association of Railroads decided it would not move certain chemicals in tank cars (in the form of gases), so they put a 72-hour embargo on the shipment of those chemicals. This resulted in a bottleneck. Shippers have been discussing this with the railways and are trying to work out a process so that this type of embargo doesn't happen unilaterally or arbitrarily, without notice. But that is the only time when chemicals per se were affected in terms of transportation.”

Pre-clearance of certain shipments is an option that will ease the flow of trade across borders while enhancing security. Transport Canada is conducting a pilot study of electronic seal and tracking for containers as a way to relieve bottlenecks at border crossings. Canada and the United States are cooperating on container inspections at three major ports. Customs inspectors from both countries are screening containers when they reach port, whether they arrive at a Canadian or a US port, providing dual coverage. Once the shipment is screened, it can move freely across the border without having to be screened again.

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