Using terror threat to ban chemicals is a bit extreme

Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 12:00am

I live a mere mile or so from one of San Diego's water treatment plants that uses chlorine. Chlorine can be a rather noxious chemical. If for some catastrophic reason my neighboring water plant experienced an "uncontrolled release," my home certainly would be in range of potentially toxic fumes.

So I am no less concerned than any other American about the possibility of a terror attack against one of the 15,000 facilities, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that use more than threshold amounts of hazardous chemicals like chlorine.

Last year, New Jersey Democratic Sen. John Corzine introduced the "Chemical Security Act." It failed to win passage, so Corzine reintroduced it this year. In the bill, the lawmaker points to an EPA study that identifies 123 chemical plants throughout the country where a worst-case release of toxic chemicals could threaten more than a million people.

Earlier this month, the Senate rejected Corzine's attempt to attach his measure to legislation financing the war in Iraq and homeland security. "The bottom line," Corzine complained, is that "a year-and-a-half after Sept. 11, there still hasn't been a serious response.

Much of the senator's proposal for improving security at chemical facilities is not unreasonable. It requires the EPA and the Department of Homeland Security to identify "high-priority" chemical facilities; to require those facilities to assess vulnerabilities; and to implement a plan to improve security.

In fact, the chemical industry already has voluntarily undertaken a number of initiatives to address security concerns at chemical facilities, according to a report last month by the General Accounting Office.

The industry also supports Homeland Security being given enforcement authority to ensure that all chemical facilities implement security improvements.

But where the chemical industry parts ways with Corzine

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