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The security of chemical facilities

The security of chemical facilities has been a concern since 9/11, as has the security of chemicals and other hazardous materials being transported by truck, rail, and barge. The Homeland Security Department finalized its long-awaited chemical security regulations late in 2007. The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards are intended to prevent terrorists from accessing and using hazardous chemicals.

Terrorist threat aside, our nation’s transportation system is particularly vulnerable with respect to chemicals and other hazardous materials. Each day, millions of tons of hazardous materials are transported across more than 200,000 miles of highway, track, and inland waterways. The transport of these materials is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Chemical Accidents Can and Do Happen

Modeling scenarios predict that a serious chemical disaster could result in hundreds of casualties to a few thousand, depending on the level of toxicity, length of exposure, atmospheric dispersion, and persistence. In the event of a truck or rail accident involving a toxic chemical, there would be clear and imminent danger to the operator, emergency response teams, and the surrounding communities.

Unfortunately, many of these chemicals are highly toxic, and there are no antidotes to treat individuals who have been poisoned. The good news is that for some of the most toxic chemicals—organophosphorus nerve agents and pesticides commonly used in agriculture—antidotes are available for use by first responders.

This is significant, because organophosphate pesticides such as malathion and parathion, which traverse our states and cities every day, could pose as great a threat as the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

In the event of an accident involving an organophosphorus nerve agent, individuals who have been poisoned may have only minutes to receive the antidote, and emergency medical personnel may be unable to assist everyone in need. Given the rapidity of symptom onset and the logistical challenges of providing immediate medical assistance to potentially large numbers of victims, the response is likely to be too little, too late—particularly if the antidote is not readily available.

To further complicate matters, federal government stockpiles of chemical nerve agent antidotes would not be accessible for immediate use.

EMS Not Fully Prepared or Equipped for Chemical Disaster

Barriers to EMS readiness continue, especially for large-scale emergencies, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks. EMS preparedness challenges have been linked to gaps in federal funding, education and training, equipment and supplies, and planning and coordination between agencies.1

Most first responders report feeling vastly underprepared and underprotected for a disaster involving a chemical, biological, or radiological agent or weapon, and the level of personal protection equipment available to emergency responders for these threats varies widely by region and service.2

First-line antidotes for organophosphorus nerve agent poisoning have been supplied to state and local first responders since the 1990s. Officials need to review chemical disaster response protocols to ensure that antidotes and personal protective equipment are easily and quickly accessible to first responders. Officials also need to evaluate the inventory of antidotes in local stockpiles and on ambulances to ensure that there is an adequate, in-date supply. Antidotes are eligible for purchase through DHS grants.

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doni yuda
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