The threat of chemical terrorism is growing

Terrorism has become a vital issue for national security not for its total lethality, rather low compared to home or road accidents, but for the multiple damages it causes: human, political, economic. In recent months, analysts pointed out a growing interest from terrorist organizations in chemistry or at least in how chemistry can increase their ability to terrorize.

First indirectly, the attack on June 26, 2015 against a plant owned by the US company Air Products in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier in France revealed the terrorist’s intention, and failure, to detonate the many gas cylinders which were available on the site. Second directly as ISIS is suspected of having recently used mustard gas against Kurdish forces in Iraq. According to Charles Faddis, a former CIA field operative, the explosion – probably caused by an accident, authorities said – which struck the Chinese city of Tianjin showed the extent of how the absence and/or deterioration of the security of facilities storing chemical products can eventually contribute to terrorism’s operational objectives.

In spite of several million working hours and $600 million spent since 2001, the US chemical industry’s security has not improved much. “More than 80 million Americans live within range of a catastrophic chemical release from the top 100 most hazardous chemical facilities in the United States” wrote Faddis according to whom “terrorist interest in chemical plants and chemical warfare is not theoretical.” Governments and companies have thus to fully understand the terrorists’ possible transition to practice.