WASHINGTON—Federal officials have declared the chemical industry and parts of the plastics industry are within the country's "essential critical infrastructure."
The March 19 Department of Homeland Security memo, which is an advisory document rather than official federal policy, is designed to update existing guidance on critical industries that need to remain open for the coronavirus pandemic.
It specifically mentions chemicals and single-use plastic products used in food and medical packaging.
Plastics industry groups welcomed the designations, which are expected to be used by state governments in their decision making. But more than 10 of them also joined in a March 25 letter from 100-plus business groups urging governments around the country to come up with more uniform definitions of "critical infrastructure" based on the DHS rules.
"Unfortunately, there are well-intentioned actions being taken at the state and local levels that may fundamentally impede or otherwise threaten the supply of critical products," the letter said.
For example, it said that transportation supply routes need to be kept open, and any curfews need to allow healthy workers to get to jobs in the critical industries.
The Plastics Industry Association, which signed the March 25 letter, said the DHS guidance is not legally binding but suggested it means that broadly the plastics industry should be considered as having essential status.
The association pointed to the role of plastics in the supply chains of many medical and consumer products, packaging and other industries like communication, transportation, energy and the defense industrial base that are singled out by DHS as critical.
As individual states issue rules around which businesses are considered essential and should remain open during broad shelter in place conditions, the association released a sample letter companies could use in making a case for such critical status.
"While there is federal guidance that indicates our entire industry is essential, it does not have the force of law and many of you will still have to contend with state and local officials to operate unimpeded," Tony Radoszewski, president and CEO of the association, said in a March 23 statement.
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency
The only specific mention of plastics in the 11-page DHS memo is around single-use plastics, in a paragraph that discusses supporting the manufacturing of food, medicine and other essential products.
But the memo, from DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, specifically includes chemical manufacturing plants.
The plastics association said that California and Connecticut adopted the DHS guidance, while Illinois and New Jersey have issued broad exemptions for manufacturing. But it said that may not be the case in all jurisdictions.
Some New York state manufacturing companies shut down after the government there issued directives, while in Pennsylvania the governor listed plastics products as an essential industry.
As well, the American Chemistry Council, which represents resin makers, highlighted the updated document in a March 21 news release and noted that it is designed to help state and local officials protect their communities while ensuring continuity of public health and safety.
"DHS expects the chemical industry to continue normal operations, while following CDC work force and customer protection guidance," ACC said. "The agency recognized the chemical manufacturing sector and its employees as having 'a special responsibility to maintain your work schedule.' "
ACC signed the March 25 letter urging governments to accept the DHS definition of critical industries as a floor. Other signatories include the American Mold Builders Association, EPS Industry Alliance, Flexible Packaging Association, Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association, PVC Pipe Association, the Vinyl Institute and the Vinyl Siding Institute.