Feds List Chemicals Terrorists Can Use
Fri, 11/02/2007 - 7:34am
WASHINGTON (AP) — The average chicken farmer does not have enough chemicals to make his farm a terrorist target, but many fertilizer wholesalers and paper mills do — and they'll have to tell the government about it as part of new anti-terrorism measures.
On Friday, the Homeland Security Department plans to release a final list of chemicals that businesses must report to keep dangerous materials out of the hands of terrorists. It's part of new authority Congress gave the department to keep an eye on places where hazardous chemicals are kept.
An original list of 344 chemicals — some with specific weight thresholds — was proposed in April and caused an uproar among businesses that had assumed they would be exempt from such terror-related reporting laws. If a facility has a chemical on the department's list, it has to fill out an online form that the Homeland Security Department will use to decide whether the chemical poses enough of a terrorist risk that the facility's security measures should be regulated.
Many chicken farms, for example, keep more than 7,500 pounds of propane, the threshold on the original list. But a new reporting threshold of 60,000 pounds for propane exempts them.
Colleges and universities that keep chemicals in many of their laboratories were spun up over the proposed list as well. The final list will only affect universities that carry large amounts of a certain chemical and small amounts of chemicals that could be used as weapons.
However, just because a business is required to fill out the government's online questionnaire does not necessarily mean that they'll be regulated by the government, said a Homeland Security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, because the final list had not yet been published.
''Once we assess that they have large amounts of chemicals of consequence, then what we will do is work with them on a plan so that they can secure a facility,'' the official said.
The potential to use certain chemicals as weapons is one of the reasons the government came up with the list. For example:
- Hydrogen peroxide, commonly used to bleach paper, can also be used in liquid explosives — the weapon of choice in at least two foiled terror plots. Those plots led to prominent airport security measures, including restrictions on how much liquid passengers can carry on planes and the screening of shoes.
- Ammonium nitrate, used in most fertilizers, has been a main ingredient in bombs used in attacks across the world. The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people, involved 2 tons of ammonium nitrate.
- Chlorine, which is generally used as a disinfectant, has been a popular explosive ingredient in attacks in Iraq.
As a result, businesses with more than 500 pounds of chlorine that could potentially be stolen, and businesses with 2,500 pounds of chlorine that could be hazardous if released, will be subject to reporting requirements.
Most businesses with these amounts of chlorine are water treatment facilities or specialty chemical manufacturers, said Scott Jensen, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, which represents about 90 percent of the nation's chemical makers.
Facilities with at least 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate used in fertilizers that could be easily stolen and potentially used to make a bomb must also fill out the online forms. These include producers and wholesalers, according to the Fertilizer Institute, a Washington-based trade group.
And businesses that have hydrogen peroxide at a 35 percent concentration will also be subject to regulations. Many paper mills and water treatment facilities use this grade of hydrogen peroxide, Jensen said.
Dropped from the list entirely were acetone and urea. Acetone is commonly used in nail polish remover, and urea is used in fertilizer.