The new chemical and water security law would require site security plans and assessments.

In November the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2868), which would require EPA to establish risk-based performance standards for utilities that serve populations of 3,300 or more. So when antiterrorism standards are reauthorized this year, water and wastewater operations likely will be included for the first time.

Treatment plants would have to meet the same standards as their counterparts in, say, the chemical and plastics manufacturing industries. Managers would have to review the safety of their treatment processes and procedures, and consider alternatives — such as switching from chlorine gas to liquid chlorine — that could limit the consequences of a terrorist attack. Plant employees would be required to help develop security plans.

“Utilities will have to conduct site security plans and assessments no matter what, and especially the ones with chlorine gas will have to demonstrate that security is adequate,” says Alan Roberson, director of security and regulatory affairs for the American Water Works Association (AWWA). He acknowledges that the legislation likely will result in increased rates to offset capital improvements. “But overall it provides a lot of people with a better feeling of safety and security.”

The good news is that facilities will be able to tap into $1 billion in grants over five years to help pay for assessments. And that it'll take EPA two to three years to finalize the details of the rule — and then it's up to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish risk tiers.

The bill was one of several introduced last year that sought to include water and wastewater facilities in antiterrorism standards. The water and wastewater industries wanted security to be overseen by one federal agency, but “some of the proposals would have had water treatment under the EPA and wastewater treatment under DHS,” explains Carl Myers, assistant director of government affairs at the Water Environment Federation.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), which Congress approved in 2006 and is administered by the Department of Homeland Security, groups facilities into four risk tiers based on a plant's perimeter security and monitoring system and requires managers to limit potential vulnerabilities. The rankings are based on location and the type and amount of chemicals a plant processes.

About one in four of the nation's 16,000 publicly owned treatment works uses chlorine gas as a disinfectant, according to the Water Environment Research Foundation; and 63% of the nation's water treatment facilities use chlorine gas, according to a 2007 survey of AWWA's 4,600 members, compared to chloramine (30%), chlorine dioxide (8%), ozone (9%), and ultraviolet light (2%).

The legislation likely won't affect all facilities, since some don't use chlorine gas; and even those facilities would have the option of changing to safer chemicals before being assigned to a risk tier.

Not even all chemical facilities — which arguably are at a greater risk for terrorist attacks — are in the highest tiers, either. Only 12% of the nation's 7,000 chemical facilities governed by this law are listed in the top two tiers, which pose the highest risk.