(09/12/2001)
Reprint from the Charleston Gazette
> Wednesday September 12, 2001

By Ken Ward Jr.
STAFF WRITER

Kanawha Valley chemical plant managers said that they have beefed up security precautions following Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Chemical company officials have long warned that their facilities are likely terrorist targets.

Industry watchdogs said that threat was overblown. They complained last year, when Congress pulled information about chemical plant safety problems off the Internet because of concerns the data would aid terrorists.

But after seeing the World Trade Center's twin towers collapse, the Valley's chemical producers weren't taking any chances.

Most said that they had increased security, but declined to elaborate, or offer any examples of their additional protections.

"We took this situation very seriously," said Tom Dover, a spokesman for Aventis, which operates a sprawling plant in Institute, next door to West Virginia State College.

"We've taken a number of steps to secure our site and our operations," Dover said. "We're not elaborating on the steps we've taken."

Jerry Ring, spokesman for Dow Chemical Co.'s West Virginia operations, said, "We have no reason to believe that any of our facilities here in West Virginia have been targeted, but as an extra precaution, we have increased security at all of our facilities.

"I can't comment directly on what those additional precautions are. If you talk about security measures, you can give away information that may help people who are interested in engaging in terrorism."

Only DuPont Co. would provide any information about what it did to protect against potential terrorist attacks.

At DuPont's Belle plant, officials blocked all incoming materials shipments for about an hour Tuesday morning while they put additional security in place.

Plant manager Rick Hodge said that crews are now inspecting every truck that passes through plant gates. Security teams from a private contractor are also stepping up patrols of the plant perimeter, Hodge said.

"We've had no indication at all, either at locations here or corporately, that we have anything to be worried about," Hodge said. "But from what we've seen now, we know we can't leave anything to chance."

American Water Works, which includes West Virginia-American Water Co., said it reinforced security at its facilities across the country following Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

"West Virginia-American routinely maintains our facilities in a safe and secure manner to ensure the safety of the water supply for our customers, and we are being especially vigilant during these difficult days," said company President Chris Jarrett.

Jarrett said that at the request of AT&T, the firm is asking customers not to use the firm's toll-free number unless it is an emergency.

A decade ago, the Valley's chemical plants remained security-conscious for months. Company officials feared a terrorist attack to respond to U.S. military involvement in the Persian Gulf War.

Since then, the issue hasn't come up as much.

In 1994, some plants went on the alert because they feared a publicity stunt or vandalism by environmental groups to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the explosion at Union Carbide's Bhopal, India, plant.

In its emergency response plan, the Kanawha-Putnam Emergency Planning Committee warns that, "Sabotage and terrorism are a real possibility in the Kanawha Valley."

The plan blamed potential terrorism on "members of politically motivated organizations, but also ... former or present disgruntled employees, psychologically unbalanced individuals, members of ultra-right or ultra-left rights organizations, members or agents of organized crime or some organizations expressing concerns about the environment and the perceived roles played by facilities in matters concerning the environment."

In July, Gov. Bob Wise raised the issue of terrorist attacks on chemical plants during a National Governors Association forum on domestic terrorism.

"For us in West Virginia, we are concerned with the security of our chemical industry," Wise said. "In the Kanawha Valley - just a couple of miles from the state Capitol and in the midst of our largest urban area - is one of the nation's largest concentrations of chemical manufacturing facilities.

"We have had accidental releases of chemicals from time to time - and we have developed response strategies for these.

"But are we prepared for deliberate assaults on our chemical safety systems? As governor, do I have the resources - the trained personnel, the infrastructure and the command system - to respond to such an attack?"

Last year, the terrorist threat to chemical plants caught the attention of several Republican congressmen and the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials were preparing to post chemical plant "worst-case scenario" accident data on the Internet.

Industry lobbyists and the Justice Department complained that the data would give terrorists a blueprint to plan attacks on plants.

Rep. Tom Bliley, R-Va., successfully pushed legislation to block the EPA from posting the information.

At the same time, Congress told the Justice Department to prepare a study of how well the nation's chemical plants are prepared to prevent terrorist attacks.

That study, however, has never been funded.

In 1998, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry completed a report on terrorist prevention at Kanawha Valley chemical plants. But that report has never been publicly released.

During testimony to Congress, chemical industry watchdogs continue to argue for more safety measures. If terrorism is a threat, they say, the public has a right to know what plants are doing about it.

"If chemical plants are targets for terrorists, then we need regulations to reduce these chemical hazards," Paul Orum, spokesman for the Washington-based Working Group on Community Right to know, said during a February 1999 hearing.

"The security agencies, EPA, industry and Congress cannot point to the risk of terrorism and then simply walk away without addressing the need for strict regulations to control chemical hazards that pose targets for terrorists."


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