Hiding Behind Terrorism Law
The Bayer company is refusing to talk about a fatal accident at a West Virginia plant, citing a 2002 terrorism law.
CSB had intended to hear community concerns, gather more information on the accident, and inform residents of the status of its investigation. However, Bayer attorneys contacted CSB Chairman John Bresland and set up a Feb. 12 conference at the board's Washington, D.C., headquarters. There, they warned CSB not to reveal details of the accident or the facility's layout at the community meeting.
"This is where it gets a little strange," Bresland tells C&EN. To justify their request, Bayer attorneys cited the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, an antiterrorism law that requires companies with plants on waterways to develop security plans to minimize the threat of a terrorist attack. Part of the plans can be designated as "sensitive security information" that can be disseminated only on a "need-to-know basis." Enforcement of the act is overseen by the Coast Guard and covers some 3,200 facilities, including 320 chemical and petrochemical facilities. Among those facilities is the Bayer plant.
Bayer argued that CSB's planned public meeting could reveal sensitive plant-specific security information, Bresland says, and therefore would be a violation of the maritime transportation law. The board got cold feet and canceled the meeting.
Bresland contends that CSB wasn't agreeing with Bayer, but says it was better to put off the meeting than to hold it and be unable to answer questions posed by the public.
The board then met with Coast Guard officials, Bresland says, and formally canceled the community meeting. The outcome of the Coast Guard meeting remains murky. It is unclear what role the Coast Guard might have in editing or restricting release of future CSB reports of accidents at covered facilities, the board says. "This could really cause difficulties for us," Bresland says. "We could find ourselves hemming and hawing about what actually happened in an accident."
This isn't the first time that the specter of terrorism has been used to keep embarrassing information secret.
EDITED TO ADD (3/20): The meeting has been rescheduled. No word on how forthcoming Bayer will be.
Posted on March 18, 2009 at 12:45 PM • 27 Comments