WASHINGTON -- Chicken farms are not terror targets after all.
The Homeland Security Department is close to releasing a list of chemicals to be included in new reporting regulations intended to keep dangerous materials out of the hands of terrorists.
Under the revised list, poultry growers will not have to file complex risk assessments for the propane they use to heat their chicken houses, two sources familiar with the regulations said.
An original list of 344 chemicals, some with specific weight thresholds, was proposed in April and caused an uproar among businesses that assumed they would be exempt from such terror-related reporting laws. Chicken farms fell under the umbrella of any business with stocks of more than 7,500 pounds of propane.
"It's just silly," said chicken farmer Gary Pilchard, who has more than 7,500 pounds of propane at each of his six chicken houses. "That's the problem sometimes in Washington. You get folks sitting behind a desk, that might sound like a lot of propane, but in our world, that's not."
The rule ruffled other feathers as well.
Many of the chemicals on the department's list are found on college campuses, but in small amounts. For instance, hydrogen chloride is used in chemistry experiments in several Yale University labs, said Peter Reinhardt, the school's director of environmental health and safety. Each lab could carry between 3 pounds and 5 pounds (1.3-2.25 kilograms) of hydrogen chloride at any given time, Reinhardt said. But on the Homeland Security chemicals list, any amount of hydrogen chloride would need to be reported. Of the 344 chemicals on the original list, businesses would have to report any amount of 105 of them, including hydrogen chloride.
Toby Smith, a lobbyist with the Association of American Universities, said he expects the list will change to include a threshold for all the chemicals. "We do not expect to see any chemical have a threshold of `any amount,'" Smith said based on recent conversations with department officials.
The department received about 4,000 comments on the original rule.
Lawmakers got behind the chicken farmers and fought for changes in the reporting requirements. At least five senators, including Republican Charles Grassley, from the rural state of Iowa, wrote Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking for the propane threshold to be raised or waived for farmers.
"To require farmers and small businesses to comply with these strict requirements and burdensome costs seems ridiculously disproportionate to the likelihood of a terrorist attack on an individual farm," Grassley wrote in June.
Many felt the initial intent of the rule was aimed at major companies with large amounts of chemicals.
"It was the kind of thing that would be in the regular course of business for a Dow chemical plant, but it would've been completely befuddling for the poultry farmer," said Richard Lobb, spokesman for the Washington-based National Chicken Council.
A year ago Congress passed a law that gave the Homeland Security Department the authority to regulate the most hazardous U.S. chemical plants. The list of chemicals is part of the regulations.
Kristen Wyatt reported from Annapolis, Maryland.