Study: Chemical Plants Still Vulnerable

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- While most of the country's chemical plants have improved security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, they remain vulnerable, a study found.

``This industry has been fixated on gates, guards and guns, but we fear that these security reforms fuel misconceptions about how best to prevent intentional terrorist acts,'' said David Ortlieb, health and safety director for the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union.

PACE, as the union is known, conducted the study for the National Institutes of Health.

The study, released Wednesday, found that nearly three-quarters of 125 major plants had improved systems to guard chemical tanks and had conducted drills to respond to an assault, but less than half strengthened their communications, emergency training, warning signals, protective equipment or contacted local police and fire departments about potential terrorist hazards on their sites.

The study also found no evidence that many plants contacted nearby residents about what could happen in the event of a terrorist attack.

PACE wouldn't identify the plants surveyed. Department of Homeland Security officials declined to comment on the report.

More than 2,000 American Chemistry Council facilities have spent $800 million on security reforms since 2003, according to the group. The council represents 140 of the nation's largest manufacturers.

``We think what our members are doing is the right thing,'' said spokeswoman Kate McGloon.

PACE recommends legislation that would reduce the amount of deadly chemicals stored onsite and which would require new technologies to mitigate a disaster. Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., has proposed such a bill.

The American Chemistry Council supports legislation by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, that would require better security plans, security upgrades and would put plant protection in the hands of Homeland Security.

The study echoes previous reports on plant security by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Government Accounting Office and CBS newsmagazine ``60 Minutes.''