Securing the gray zone of regulated chemicals

NYPD's Operation Green Cloud underscores weaknesses of hazardous chemicals security


There are security protocols for Chlorine Institute member firms in place that require customer assessments to determine "that they are who they say they are" and can safely handle chlorine, Dungan says. At present, "these are done on a voluntary basis but the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) regulation, when it's final, will mandate this. Knowing your customer is a key part of the regulation," he says. "If it's a new customer, typically this would be an onsite walk-through visit" that would include discussions to determine the customer's level of skill and expertise in handling chlorine, he adds.

"Chlorine is not a growth chemical" and is widely used, and so most customers are well-known, Dungan says. "It's not that often that you get a new customer. I guess, listening to the video, that they concocted a tale that sounded pretty good; but you'd expect a terrorist to do that," he says. The Chlorine Institute continues to tell its members to scrutinize their security plans and "take this opportunity to look at other aspects of the security plan and make sure they are being followed," he adds.

The Chlorine Institute and ACC say they were unaware that there was a video of the operation until after it was publicized. "We contacted [the NYPD] on a couple of occasions to say that this should not have happened," Dungan says. "We said we would like to publicize this to educate our members and reinforce the importance that we give to knowing your customers. [NYPD] said it would consider that, but was never willing to follow through."

NYPD did not respond to requests for an interview by CW presstime.

The National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD; Arlington, VA) sent a letter expressing concern to NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly last month when NYPD released the video, which is available on its Web site as well as on YouTube.com. "This type of distribution is not representative of the responsible actions of NACD company members, who, as a requirement of membership in the association, must conduct product stewardship and exercise due diligence when selling potentially dangerous products to customers," says Chris Jahn, NACD president, in the letter (CW, Feb. 25, p. 4).

NYPD says it worked with several city hazmat emergency response groups to mitigate potential risks of handling, delivery, and disposal of the chemicals. It also called on Kuehne Chemical (Kearny, NJ) to take possession of the cylinders after the operation. "Our involvement was fairly limited," says Donald Nicolai, president of Kuehne, which itself has been cited by government officials as a terrorism risk as its sites store chlorine in densely populated areas. Nicolai says the success of the NYPD operation is surprising. "I know it would be very difficult in any other circumstance. I don't know the background details, [but] I know you certainly couldn't do that from any of the people I know that supply containerized chlorine," he says.

The video "isn't about the companies that know what they are doing," Acker says. "There are a lot of [small] companies that supply industrial gases in small cylinders, and they're all over the place -- every town has one," he says. "They are probably not familiar with the harmful potential of chlorine or other toxic gases." Given that, they should not be allowed to use the Internet as their primary means of customer contact, he says. "To prevent this type of sale from occurring, Internet sales of reactive gases such as chlorine should be banned," Acker says. Using the Internet to make an initial contact with a potential customer is okay, "but then you have to call somebody and there needs to be some legitimate paper work exchanged" and meetings face to face, which is what major firms in the industry do, he says. "Sales of these types of chemicals without knowing who you are selling to is just not appropriate."