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Toxic Chemicals and Explosive Materials: Terrorism-Related Issues for the Research Community, Chemical Industry, and Government

Alexander MacLachlan

E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (retired)

After almost 36 years in the chemical industry, I have found myself called on recently to participate in several studies and forums that deal with various aspects of terrorists’ use of chemicals. While by no means an expert in terrorist matters, I will draw on my experiences as a longtime participant in the chemical industry and a participant in recent studies to suggest ways to make life more difficult for would-be terrorists. To prepare for this meeting I have also spoken with colleagues still active in the chemical industry to gain an understanding of what they are doing today. I am certainly not a spokesperson for that industry, however.

Two recent National Research Council studies with which I have been involved deal directly with chemical-related terrorism. They are Containing the Threat from Illegal Bombings: An Integrated National Strategy for Marking, Tagging, Rendering Inert, and Licensing Explosives and Their Precursors and Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism, published in 1998 and 2002, respectively. A study related to the first report, Black and Smokeless Powders: Technologies for Finding Bombs and the Bomb Makers, published in 1998, was also a source for this talk. The black powder and the illegal bombing reports were the direct result of two horrendous incidents, the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the first World Trade Center attack. The report on making the nation safer was initiated following the events of September 11, 2001.

Chemical-related terrorist opportunities fall into several categories:

  • use of acquired or stolen chemicals to make bombs or poisonous substances to kill, maim, and frighten citizens



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Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses - U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings Toxic Chemicals and Explosive Materials: Terrorism-Related Issues for the Research Community, Chemical Industry, and Government Alexander MacLachlan E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (retired) After almost 36 years in the chemical industry, I have found myself called on recently to participate in several studies and forums that deal with various aspects of terrorists’ use of chemicals. While by no means an expert in terrorist matters, I will draw on my experiences as a longtime participant in the chemical industry and a participant in recent studies to suggest ways to make life more difficult for would-be terrorists. To prepare for this meeting I have also spoken with colleagues still active in the chemical industry to gain an understanding of what they are doing today. I am certainly not a spokesperson for that industry, however. Two recent National Research Council studies with which I have been involved deal directly with chemical-related terrorism. They are Containing the Threat from Illegal Bombings: An Integrated National Strategy for Marking, Tagging, Rendering Inert, and Licensing Explosives and Their Precursors and Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism, published in 1998 and 2002, respectively. A study related to the first report, Black and Smokeless Powders: Technologies for Finding Bombs and the Bomb Makers, published in 1998, was also a source for this talk. The black powder and the illegal bombing reports were the direct result of two horrendous incidents, the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the first World Trade Center attack. The report on making the nation safer was initiated following the events of September 11, 2001. Chemical-related terrorist opportunities fall into several categories: use of acquired or stolen chemicals to make bombs or poisonous substances to kill, maim, and frighten citizens

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Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses - U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings theft of toxic chemicals for placement in water supplies, foods, and pharmaceuticals sabotage of chemical plants to cause releases of toxic materials into the air or water supply sabotage of chemical transportation vehicles such as trucks, trains, and ships Terrorist targets may include individuals, places where large numbers of people aggregate, prestigious monuments, critical infrastructure, and transportation systems. Unfortunately there is no end to targets. The aforementioned studies all concluded that the strategies to thwart terrorists could for the most part be thought of as increasing difficulty for terrorists to obtain dangerous or precursor chemicals and to make it more likely that those who do obtain possession of such materials will be caught. Absolute prevention of terrorist acts is impossible. However, this “raising-of-the-bar” philosophy was supported by all government and law enforcement officials interviewed in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the United States. Interviews with chemical industry representatives suggest the same philosophy prevails in the industry. The recommendations of the reports and the recent interviews with chemical industry representatives lead to the following broad categories of needed technology developments: more sensitivity in detecting and tracking dangerous products or their precursors whenever they are being moved among locations limiting access to these materials through increased security or more stringent laws and regulations or both rendering materials unsuitable for terrorist use developing new technologies for more efficient cleanup of deliberate contaminations All these approaches involve combinations of technology use or development, government actions, and the cooperation of industry. EXPLOSIVES AND THEIR PRECURSOR CHEMICALS The reports that dealt with illegal use of explosives and black powder examined a number of protection concepts: the addition of detectants to explosives and designated chemicals to make them susceptible to sensitive mass screening devices or animals (dogs) the incorporation of information-containing markers into commercial explosives and certain precursor chemicals so that before or after a terrorist attack,

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Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses - U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings information can be gleaned that will give valuable insight as to the origin of the materials the rendering of precursor chemicals inert or not useful for explosive fabrication the limitation of criminal access to explosives and precursor chemicals Both reports agreed that detectants added to commercial explosives had merit, but serious concerns about effecting the usefulness or safety of these materials prompted the study teams to recommend against this approach. More research was recommended to overcome the perceived shortcoming of current concepts. The exception to this general conclusion is the manufacture of plastic and sheet explosives. Since 1998 under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) one of four dectectants will be added to these explosives. These detectants have enough volatility that they can be readily picked up by screening equipment and dogs. Obviously, this approach will take a long time to permeate the market, and its effectiveness will only be seen if a terrorist uses smuggled military explosives covered by the treaty. The addition of taggants, which can be used to provide critical source and date information before or after an explosion, to commercial explosives was examined and found not to be practical in the United States at this time. Taggants are used in explosives manufactured in and imported into Switzerland and have been credited with solving several crimes. While supportive of the concept, the relevant report recommends more research to overcome the perceived difficulties of cost and environmental contamination. The latter problem was particularly serious for bulk explosive materials, such as ammonium nitrate, used in mining and earth moving. Many taggant concepts were analyzed, but most were merely at the idea stage. However, some, such as the use of isotopic labeling, were intriguing and did seem to hold promise for use in certain precursor chemicals whether used in explosives or for toxic chemical synthesis. Rendering explosive materials inert through additives has received quite a bit of study in various countries. Most of the focus is on ammonium nitrate fertilizer and urea. Early claims of having “inerted” ammonium nitrate were later shown to be incorrect or approaches that could be easily bypassed. Development of effective means to make ammonium nitrate inert is still considered worthy of support, however. Key considerations concern effectiveness, cost, and food safety. In the United States, limiting access to explosives emerged as a major concern. U.S. laws to control commercial explosives range from extremely stringent in some states to remarkably lax in others. This laxness is reflected in the lack of control over purchases of commercial explosives and inadequate regulations regarding their storage and security. Most illegal bombings in the United States use stolen commercial explosives. Strong recommendations have been made to create more uniform laws in this area, but progress has been spotty.

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Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses - U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings The most devastating explosions in the United States (at the Murrah Building and first World Trade Center attack) were accomplished with fertilizers as the prime components (ammonium nitrate and nitrated urea, respectively). Because of the enormous cost and disruption to the agricultural community, it is difficult to place strict control on these bulk materials unless the perceived threat escalates considerably. However, the fertilizer industry has a volunteer program that requests sellers of these fertilizers to know their customers. Early evidence suggests that this approach has been effective, but sustainability and long-term followup is an obvious concern. If the threat of terrorist acts escalates, however, more stringent licensing procedures should be invoked for these materials and a limited list of other high-risk chemicals. As expected, the cost and inconvenience to legitimate users go up correspondingly. TOXIC AND FLAMMABLE CHEMICALS AS TERRORIST WEAPONS The report Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism addressed how current or new technology might help thwart or mitigate terrorist attacks using chemicals. Toxic chemicals have long been considered for warfare. The fear of chemical weapons engenders significant dread in most people and consequently fulfills a key goal of terrorists. Over the years, governments have studied ways to improve the effectiveness of these weapons, and much progress has been made, especially in toxicity and delivery techniques. In the hands of a terrorist in crowded places, such as enclosed buildings, stadiums, and subways, or possibly even distribution networks, such as sewers, the impact and effectiveness could be enormous in terms of both casualties and fear. Other potentially devastating distribution systems include the postal service, food distribution, and water supply networks. Most chemical warfare agents are relatively simple to synthesize from easily obtained chemical precursors (at least in the United States). Preventing terrorists from synthesizing small quantities of the most deadly chemical warfare agents is a daunting task. The International Chemical Weapons Convention lists a number of chemicals and identifies specialized processing equipment that are banned or must be reported by the 160 signatory nations if they are used. In general, however, the quantities of the listed chemicals that must be reported are quite large compared to what a terrorist group might purchase or steal to make useful weapons. This convention is designed to constrain nations, not for suicide terrorists. Another major concern relative to chemical terrorist weapons is the potential sabotage of chemical plants, manufacturing units, or large-volume storage vessels, or even more frightening, the deliberate release of toxic and flammable chemicals from tank cars in heavily populated areas or ships in busy harbors. Making the Nation Safer devotes significant attention to how technology

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Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses - U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings might be used to mitigate many of the effects and problems from such chemical releases. Sensor technology development and new sensor applications in this specific area could be a powerful approach. Sensors have the potential to thwart terrorists in the planning stage and before or during attempted attacks. They can also be used in forensic analysis. Specific applications for sensors are detection of abnormal air quality in buildings, subways, sewer pipes, and other closed areas detection of explosives in luggage detection of chemicals or nuclear materials during shipment early warning of contamination of food and water long-distance sensors to protect investigators mapping clouds of poisonous agents assisting physicians in assessing patient problems and condition determining level of contamination and when cleanup is complete The principal recommendations are broad-based exploratory research to ascertain new sensor principles research to study how animals detect odors coordination of research and development on sensors and sensor networks with emphasis on systems in the field technology and verification programs to guide federal research investments and advise state and local authorities on the evolving state of the art The remainder of the report covered findings and recommendations that dealt with the need for technology advances in filter systems for buildings that would have enough capacity to rapidly decontaminate or even prevent toxic materials from entering the entire air supply methods to neutralize toxic clouds methods to decontaminate areas and to dispose of contaminated materials robotics to protect personnel involved with cleanup sophisticated mining of databases to give early warning of toxic chemical or biological attacks improving the government’s capability to protect food, water supplies, and pharmaceuticals better risk assessment technologies to determine the appropriate priority and effort to protect different potential targets develop an infrastructure of trained personnel and specialized equipment poised to assemble the best response approaches to different types of attacks

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Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses - U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings CHEMICAL INDUSTRY RESPONSE Immediately after September 11, 2001, the chemical industry came under intense self-examination and governmental scrutiny. Senator Jon S. Corzine and his colleagues prepared a bill for the U.S. Congress to require chemical manufacturers to eventually shut down large plants near urban areas if the plants had processes or made chemicals that might explode and kill or injure people. The industry’s strong negative response and plea for an opportunity to suggest approaches of their own helped defeat the bill. Senator Corzine’s bill had its origin in a law that requires about 15,000 companies to present hypothetical worst-case accident scenarios for toxic chemicals they produce. The industry succeeded in limiting public access to these scenarios, and today it is a crime if they are published. Industry organized its response through the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and developed a mandatory security-based code of management for its members. The industry gave itself three years to implement this code. Many of the components of the Corzine bill were taken to heart, including a risk-based approach to identify the most likely terrorist targets and place priority on their protection. The actions being taken build on past experience and practices to prevent accidents and misuse of products. The chemical industry has long viewed itself as a manufacturer of dangerous materials. Over the decades, often in response to disasters or customer misuse, the industry has developed many procedures to prevent accidents in the manufacture and use of its products. One of the most effective is the industry-wide code of conduct, called Responsible Care, dating from 1988. This program was created under the auspices of the ACC. Six principles form the basis of this code: community awareness and emergency response pollution prevention process safety distribution employee health and safety product stewardship The code was designed to be flexible, continually challenging the member companies to go beyond the minimum requirements of regulations. Guiding principles that defined the ethic of the program were also created. Since establishment in 1988 a great record of accomplishments can be cited. However, September 11, 2001, caused a new level of thinking in the industry and the federal government. All the excellent work to improve safety had been aimed at accidents, and accidents are preventable. Now deliberate sabotage must be rolled into the security equation. Moreover, the saboteurs are often willing to die during their acts.

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Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses - U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings Building on the success of Responsible Care, the industry created an initiative aimed at terrorism: the Responsible Care Security Code of Management Practices. The code aims to rapidly improve companies security performance using risk-based approaches to identify, assess, and address vulnerabilities; prevent or mitigate incidents; enhance training and response capabilities; and maintain and improve relationships with key stakeholders. The new code also recognizes that security is a shared relationship among suppliers, service providers, and government officials and agencies. There are 13 management practices required of a company. They range through proof of leadership commitment, prioritization of vulnerabilities through risk assessment, cybersecurity, specific documentation requirements, training and drills, exchange of information among all stakeholders, evaluation of detected security threats and incidents, audits with third-party verification, and review of all processes when anything changes, for example, personnel, processes, and products. One of the most striking features of this new code is that all members are required to fully implement it by 2005. Indications are that the three-year deadline will be met. As an example, the industry has already identified its 120 highest priority sites based on risk criteria, thus meeting the deadline of December 31, 2002. All these sites will meet the security enhancement requirements by the end of 2003. Another interesting new concept is the requirement for third-party verification of conformance and quality of a company’s performance. The criteria for this verification are strict and thorough. There are many other actions being taken especially for eliminating the risk itself. They include such activities as examining all processes and attempting to minimize quantities of the most dangerous in-process chemicals. While this has been a focus of the industry since the devastating Bhopal incident, where thousands were killed in India by release of methyl isocyanate from a large storage tank, it has received new impetus. The methyl isocyanate storage was only temporary, as the chemical was an intermediate for the products of the plant. Immediately after this incident, chemical companies examined all their processes and where possible eliminated intermediate storage of large quantities of dangerous materials. This has been a great contributor to the inherent safety of many processes, but much more needs to be done. A recent article in the American Chemical Society’s publication Chemical and Engineering News talked about a strong movement now under way to design chemical processes from the ground up to be inherently safer and simpler to control. This, of course, is most pertinent to construction of new plants and is probably one area where new government licensing requirements will be focused. POSSIBLE ACTIONS Later this week, we will consider the broad scope of the National Research Council’s involvement in terrorism studies. At this workshop, we are charged to

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Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses - U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings find areas that can benefit from our joint sponsorship of public forums and studies. In my view, in chemical and explosives terrorism, we might consider such topics as new concepts and principles for sensor technology and capability practical new concepts for tracing precursor chemicals useful for chemical weapons or explosives the use of databases and data mining to detect suspicious activity interaction between our respective chemical industries and their associations to encourage sharing ideas of ways to interfere with terrorists the concept that future chemical plant construction incorporates specific features to make plants inherently safer and secure from sabotage the tension between civil rights versus effective terrorism prevention