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New federal chemical rules to impact MIT

The MIT Environment, Health and Safety Office (EHS) is asking departments, laboratories and centers at the Institute for help in responding to new federal regulations aimed at preventing the misuse of certain chemicals.

While the new regulations from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) most directly apply to chemical plants and similar facilities, the department's broad definition of a "chemical facility" means colleges and universities are also subject to the requirements.

"MIT will definitely have to take action to comply with these regulations, and we'll need the assistance of our departments, laboratories and centers to coordinate MIT's response," said Zhanna Davidovitz, environmental officer with EHS.

According to the recently published "Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards," facilities like MIT must report to DHS if they possess certain levels of some 370 chemicals. The complete list of chemicals can be found in Appendix A of the DHS rule (PDF file).

DHS will use the reports to rank facilities by their perceived level of risk. Those facilities deemed "high risk" based on this initial assessment will have to perform vulnerability assessments, develop site security plans and potentially implement additional security measures that satisfy the DHS' risk-based performance standards.

As the federal requirements are finalized, EHS will be in contact with MIT groups that use the DHS-listed chemicals. In preparation, EHS recommends that these groups inventory their chemical stocks. EHS, which provides inventory software at no charge to the MIT community, notes that comprehensive chemical inventories save MIT groups money by accurately representing available stocks, thereby avoiding redundant orders of expensive reagents.

"By securing dangerous materials from misuse or release, MIT can better protect its community," said William VanSchalkwyk, managing director of EHS Programs. "Over the past several years, MIT has improved security measures and implemented access control to several lab areas. Increasing any security element is of course balanced with our culture of providing an open atmosphere for our community to learn, work and live. These new DHS regulations will assist all of us at MIT in having more context in the overall view of security and vulnerability as related to chemicals in use at MIT."

For more information, please contact Zhanna Davidovitz at x2-2510 or visit

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 16, 2008 (download PDF).

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