- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Chemical companies in the Washington region are doing thorough background checks on drivers, restricting access to their plants and auditing inventories as they gird for the threat of terrorist attacks.

State troopers in Virginia and Maryland, at the same time, are stepping up inspections of commercial trucks entering Washington after reports that 18 Arabic suspects have obtained licenses to transport hazardous materials.

"The troopers are staying very busy," said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police. A special squad of the Virginia troopers, trained to inspect the safety of trucks that carry hazardous materials, has been working 12-hour shifts in recent weeks.

"We're just checking as many of the trucks as possible," Miss Caldwell said. "We're doing random truck checks as well as at the scales."

State police are responding to a request from the U.S. Transportation Department to do more inspections. As many as 76,000 tanker trucks carrying millions of pounds of hazardous materials travel the nation's roadways each day.

Legislation pending in Congress would require more rigorous background checks for drivers of hazardous materials, broaden the authority of the Transportation Department to conduct inspections of trucks and increase the fines for violating regulations from $27,500 to $100,000.

In Maryland, safety inspections at the state's 10 truck-weighing stations are now done 24 hours a day instead of the 16 hours before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We're checking to make sure what they say they're hauling is what they are hauling," said Lt. Bud Frank, spokesman for the Maryland State Police.

Although no terrorists have been found in the Washington region carrying chemicals or biological agents in trucks, the risks prompted Richmond-based Ethyl Corp. to put together a "fault tree" of every method that could be used to launch an attack with hazardous materials.

"We don't let anyone come into the plant without knowing we're expecting a shipment from them, where it's from and who is driving it," said Bruce Hazelgrove, Ethyl Corp. spokesman.

The petroleum additives company also instituted precautions suggested by the American Chemical Association and the FBI after 18 suspects with Arabic names obtained hazardous materials licenses in Pittsburgh.

"We took it seriously, is what I'm saying," Mr. Hazelgrove said.

Even smaller chemical companies have been drawn into the hunt for the terrorist cells suspected of lurking in the United States for another attack.

"We did get a call from the FBI," said Larry Sharpe, a partner in CWC Chemical Corp. of Roanoke. "They wanted to know if we have any inventory that was missing. I thought that was something that was very unusual for someone as small as us. They also wanted to know if any of our chemical-spray trucks were missing."

The company produces chemicals primarily for the forestry industry, such as herbicides.

At Tilley Chemical Co. in Baltimore, visitors had easier access through the company's gates until the risk of a terrorist attack arose in September.

The company buys chemicals from manufacturers and distributes them to customers, such as manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and oils. Among the chemicals it hauls is ammonia, which can be toxic in large quantities.

"What we've done is heightened the review of the people coming through the gate," said Kirk Izer, controller for Tilley Chemical Co.

"The protocol now is to park outside the gate, walk in and then we clear them for entrance in the facility."

The company employs 15 truck drivers. Job applicants now have their references reviewed much more thoroughly than before mid-September, Mr. Izer said.

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