Bill to Secure Chemical Plants Has Unintended Consequences

Posted October 30, 2009 at 12:44pm

Imagine a society in which you walk into a pharmacy and there is no common pain reliever, such as ibuprofen, on the shelves.

[IMGCAP(1)]A shortage or elimination of common consumer products could become reality if proponents of government-mandated product substitution get their way.

H.R. 2868, led by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), will soon make it to the House floor under the guise of chemical plant security, which, if approved, will shift an eight-year effort away from safeguarding chemical facilities against terrorism to banning products inside these facilities that improve daily living. In doing so, the government will be enabling unintended negative consequences about which process safety experts, academia and industry have each warned against for the past several years.

Chemical substances targeted by the bill for substitution would not only affect the domestic availability of common pain relievers but could compromise the quality of medicines that fight pandemics, which are fought by using chemistry with some of the same targeted substances.

This legislation would also increase our reliance on foreign-made active pharmaceutical ingredients as U.S. companies become barred from manufacturing chemicals that customers will still demand. Such a result would actually make the U.S. less safe and secure and cost Americans jobs.

Despite independent testimony warning of the implications, the legislation provides no specific safeguard against these consequences. In fact, attempts to do so have been brushed aside, either out of ignorance or politics.

To be perfectly clear, our industry does not oppose using safer chemistry. Considering safer chemistry before production has been a normal part of the manufacturing process since the 1970s. What we do oppose is government-mandated product substitution that in some cases will eventually result in the opposite effect that was intended.

Congress should put aside partisan politics and allow the existing comprehensive law to become permanent. To move forward with H.R. 2868 leaves one to wonder whether Congress is more interested in further regulating one of the most regulated U.S. industries or genuinely protecting the nation against terrorism.

Bill Allmond is vice president for government relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates.