Ottawa to to guard information about industrial chemicals from terrorists

Reprinted with permission from Canadian Press

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Sunday, July 21, 2002

Murray Brewster

Canadian Press

HALIFAX (CP) - People living near industrial sites will soon find it more difficult to get information about dangerous chemicals stored on the properties. Ottawa has drafted new environmental regulations that will classify certain information on materials that could be dangerous in the hands of terrorists.

The handling of explosives, such as dynamite, is already covered by federal law. But most of the compounds that can be made into bombs have been regulated only for their environmental impact.

While the public may still have access to what type of chemicals are stored on a property, specific details such as the quantity and exact location of the materials will soon be shared only with the government and emergency response officials.

"Restricted access to that detailed information would only be available on a need-to-know basis," said Asit Hazra, chief of emergency prevention at Environment Canada.

"We're trying to prevent potential terrorists from getting information about toxic substances and what quantities are stored where."

As many as 174 different types of ordinary and specialized industrial chemicals, such as ammonia, benzene and cyanide will be covered by the new regulations, which are expected to come into force next month.

Hazra said the RCMP and CSIS will review the list and decide what chemicals pose the greatest potential security threat.

He couldn't say how many chemicals will qualify as a potential danger.

The rules will apply to large pulp companies, refineries, mining operations and chemical plants.

Environmentalists say the new regulations take important information out of the public realm and will not deter potential terrorists.

"This specific kind of information is of real interest to citizens and environmental groups," said Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia.

"Anybody who is living next door to an industrial facility would like to know what's there and how much is there.

"What terrorists need to know is the generic information, and they can get that anywhere."

Butler said the government is using the threat of terrorism to roll back gains environmentalists have made during the past decade.

"Residents and citizens have access to that kind of information so they can make informed choices about the risks they want to expose themselves to, or if they want a plant next door," said Butler.

When Canada's Environmental Protection Act came into effect in 1999, officials had only drawn up guidelines for the storage of a limited amount of industrial materials.

But the events of Sept. 11 forced officials to adopt a longer, more extensive list of chemicals, many of which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates.

Hazra said officials are looking at adding some fertilizers to the list, such as ammonium nitrate. But that likely won't be done until next year.

Recently, in Nova Scotia, the RCMP began an investigation into the improper storage of tonnes of ammonium nitrate outside of an Annapolis Valley fertilizer plant.

The same type of chemical was used in 1995 to make a bomb that destroyed a U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City.

 Copyright 2002 The Canadian Press

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