WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government is underestimating the threat of a chemical attack on America’s densely populated cities and has failed to inspect virtually all of the chemical facilities that it considers particularly vulnerable to terrorists, congressional investigators say.
The yearlong investigation by Republican staff on the Senate Homeland Security Committee paints a portrait of inspection delays, government errors in risk assessment and industry loopholes in a $595 million terror prevention program passed by Congress in 2006. A copy of the investigators’ report was obtained by The Associated Press.
Coming a year after a massive explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant, the report points to threats from the release of toxic and flammable chemicals.
Roughly half of the 4,011 high-risk facilities on the Homeland Security Department watch list are in 10 states: California, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan and New Jersey.
Committee investigators have indicated that larger metropolitan regions such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia might be more vulnerable to a chemical attack. The report notes that rural accidents like the West, Texas, plant explosion "pale in comparison with the consequences of releasing large quantities of toxic gas into a densely populated city."
The findings were expected to be discussed Wednesday at a meeting of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
It said widespread problems have left many of the nation’s riskiest chemical facilities "effectively unregulated."
The report relies in part on internal DHS documents, including a terror program assessment completed late last year that hasn’t been released, and a federal database of higher-risk facilities. The study was shared with the committee’s Democratic chairman, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, who concurred with the main findings.
DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee noted that the department has stepped up monitoring efforts, having approved security plans for 750 facilities in the last two years. DHS officials have called on Congress to authorize the program over multiple years -- not just year to year -- so the government and chemical companies can better plan for longer-range security.
"The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program is an important part of our nation