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Testimony Reiterates Concerns About Anti-Terorism Rules for Chemical Facilities

July 24, 2007

Update 

Dr. Ara Tahmassian, associate vice president for research compliance at Boston University, testified on July 24 at a House subcommittee hearing on "Chemical Security -- A Rising Concern for America: Examination of the Department's Chemical Security Regulations and Its Effect on the Public and Private Sector." Speaking on behalf of six associations representing colleges and universities on this issue, Dr. Tahmassian emphasized the higher education community's commitment to safety and security in the conduct of research and teaching. Although he explained concerns about the compliance with the rules as written, he praised the Department of Homeland Security for its willingness to work with the community. The Department is establishing a formal working group, including campus experts, to consider compliance issues for academic institutions.

July  11, 2007

Recent discussions with Department of Homeland Security officials have left college and university representatives optimistic that institutions will not be forced into a quick scramble to comply with new regulations intended to increase security at chemical facilities.  In addition to modifying the list of chemicals of interest, Homeland Security staff indicated a willingness to work with the university community on implementation issues.

Since Homeland Security released interim final regulations for chemical facilities on April 9, NACUBO has been working with the American Council on Education, the Campus Safety, Health, and Environmental Management Association, and others to bring policymakers' attention to serious concerns about the impact on the nation's colleges and universities. A list of chemicals of interest published for the first time in an appendix to the new regulations included many substances that are common in academic laboratories, with such low thresholds--or none at all--that most colleges in the country would have been required to comply with the new rules. Compliance would entail completing a survey instrument including an inventory of listed chemicals if the aggregate amount exceeded the threshold. Vulnerability assessments and security plan requirements would be predicated on the agency's analysis of the threat posed by the facility.

The only part of the rule that was open for comment was the appendix, which Homeland Security expected to revise and finalize by early June. However, the task of revising the list has taken longer than anticipated and is now expected to be released later this month. Colleges and universities were well represented in the more than 4,000 comments submitted. Agency officials have indicated that some chemicals will be removed from the list, and thresholds will be increased for others, and no chemicals will be listed with a threshold of "any amount" - as more than 100 chemicals were on the original list. According to the original notice, entities will have 60 days after the appendix is issued to complete an online survey instrument, known as the Top Screen, that Homeland Security will use to determine the appropriate level of security needed for the facility. Facilities will then have to complete vulnerability assessments and prepare security plans.

In a meeting last month with representatives of NACUBO and other associations, the acting director of the Chemical Security Compliance Division indicated a willingness to give colleges and universities more time to comply and to consider alternative approaches that might be less burdensome for academic institutions. He was adamant, however, that all entities possessing certain types of chemicals such as nerve agents and weapons precursors will have to report and to provide increased security. NACUBO continues to work on this issue and will keep members informed of developments. 

Resources

NACUBO Contact:    Anne C. Gross, vice president of regulatory affairs, 202.861.2544