ALBANY, N.Y. -- Chemical companies across the nation are building barriers at entranceways, restricting access to facilities and scrutinizing their inventories as they clamp down on security to prevent terrorism.
Companies that make or transport hazardous chemicals have been more vigilant since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks given that as many as 76,000 tanker trucks carrying millions of pounds of hazardous cargo travel the nation's roadways daily.
The recent arrests of people accused of fraudulently obtaining permits to haul such materials prompted the U.S. Transportation Department to ask state police and truck inspectors to conduct roadside checks.
Variety of clamp down measures, including restricting access, scrutinizing inventories are aimed at preventing terrorism
"We had pretty tight security before," said Irvin Lipp, a spokesman for DuPont. "Even more so now, we're totally by the book."
That includes a long-standing rule that company drivers must speak English and be a U.S. citizen at least 25 years old with previous truck driving experience and proper certification.
Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont, which operates more than 70 facilities in the U.S. alone, has hired more security officers and increased patrols on its grounds. Visitors are more thoroughly screened. Staging areas for hazardous materials like chlorine and ammonia have moved from outside to inside company gates, Lipp said.
A spokeswoman for Dow Chemical Co. said the chemical provider, which operates in 171 countries, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, is operating under "elevated security." Access is limited, carriers are screened and "crisis management" teams continue to meet, said Leslie Hatfield from the company's Midland, Mich., headquarters.
Typically, larger corporations already have strict security rules in place. It's the small companies that must change their approach to safety, said Neal Langerman, owner of Advanced Chemical Safety, a consulting firm based in San Diego.
"Those are the places where employees have gotten into the habit of leaving the back door open so their pizza can get delivered," he said.
While airlines consider chemical-sniffing detectors and face-recognition computer systems, many chemical companies are probably better off employing more commonplace -- and less-expensive -- measures, like better inventory control, Langerman said.
Before Sept. 11, Surpass Chemical Co. of Albany, which manufactures a caustic water-treating compound, left its gates open at night to give its truckers easy access. Now, gates stay locked, photoelectric eyes monitor any movement. New customers, especially those operating less than five years -- are intensely scrutinized, said Len Smith, vice president general manager.
"Everybody's doing a review, seeing what else we can put in place," said Thomas Williams, of Slack Chemical Co., a small northern New York company that warehouses and distributes high-concentration bleaches and acids.
"Some measures are in place already, but is it enough? Who knows? We have to balance what we can do with what we can afford."
Some companies now require two drivers per shipment, so that the truck is never left unattended or, on shorter runs, never has to stop at all, said Jeff Van, spokesman for American Chemistry Council, based in Arlington, Va.
Van said his organization is working to make sure the police and FBI keep companies informed, especially if there's concern over a specific threat.
"Our alert statuses go up and down. Just as the military can't stay at its highest alert status indefinitely, nor can we," Van said. "Our response to threats will be based largely on what law enforcement tells us."
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