Colorado School Inventories ‘Chemicals of Interest’ On Campus
University of Colorado (CU) officials are taking inventory of “chemicals of interest” on the campus, a newly mandated task from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intended to prevent terrorist attacks.
The federal security regulations require laboratories at colleges and universities across the country — along with other buildings and plants that store chemicals — to determine the location and quantities of more than 340 chemicals on the department’s list. If the chemicals stored exceed the department’s “threshold quantity,” the university may be required to adopt more stringent security requirements, according to The Daily Camera.
Potentially dangerous chemicals that need to be catalogued include those that are explosive, toxic or flammable and those that could be used as weapons if stolen or mixed with other materials, says Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman for the DHS.
International events — including a June attack at Scotland’s Glasgow International Airport, where terrorists attempted to use propane to set off an explosion — illustrate the importance of securing sites where high levels of potentially dangerous chemicals are stored, according to the DHS. Federal officials say that while these sites may not be targets themselves, the chemicals they hold could pose a threat to surrounding areas.
The Daily Camera reports that CU officials sent an e-mail to faculty members and deans that gives instructions on how to complete the inventory and sets a Dec. 19 deadline for the project. The e-mail says the university has been “given very little time to comply” and acknowledges that the federal requirement will cause extra work for CU faculty and staff members as well as administrators.
But Derrick Watson, CU’s director of Environmental Health and Safety, says he estimates that the Boulder campus is already 85 percent compliant.
“The university has had a chemical-management database for a number of years, so we’re not starting from scratch,” he told The Daily Camera. “We are well aware of what the requirements are, and in our case, I think we’re a bit ahead.”
Watson says inspectors frequently audit CU labs to make sure that chemicals are documented and safely contained. As a measure to prevent theft or misuse, the university doesn’t reveal what chemicals it stores on the campus or how they are secured, he says.
An earlier version of the chemical security regulations prompted criticism last spring from national higher-education groups that were concerned it would take some colleges and universities hundreds of hours to itemize small amounts of chemicals that did not pose significant security threats.
In response, the DHS revised its list and scrapped common items, such as acetone and urea. The department also loosened requirements for other items that need to be reported, such as hydrogen peroxide. The draft proposal required the concentration had to be at least 30 percent, which has been changed to 35 percent.
The requirement seems to be going over smoothly on CU’s Boulder campus, Watson says. CU conducts federally funded research, which comes with stipulations, he added.
“I haven’t heard any pushback from faculty or researchers that this is burdensome,” he says.