Chemical risk debated : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Published Friday, December 3, 1999, in the Akron Beacon Journal.

Chemical risk debated

Ecology group says Ohio cities at risk from plant storage of large amounts, but industry disputes that

BY BOB DOWNING Beacon Journal staff writer

A new report says Ohio communities are at risk from industrial plants storing large amounts of hazardous chemicals, but the industry says there is no need for alarm.

Ohio has 171 plants storing what the federal government calls extremely hazardous chemicals, 11 of which store more than 1 million gallons each, said the Ohio Public Interest Research Group in a report released yesterday. ``These facilities really are accidents waiting to happen,'' said Ohio PIRG spokeswoman Kate Strouse.

The chemical industry has an excellent safety record and has put in herculean efforts to increase plant safety over the last 10 years, said spokeswoman Peggy Smith of the Ohio Chemical Council in Columbus, which has 100 members.

The data cited by the eco-group doesn't mean much, she said. Storing chemicals is not a problem in itself and is not creating a risk -- it's only a problem if they are mismanaged or mishandled, she said.

Ohio ranked ninth in the country for the number of facilities storing such chemicals, said the report, prepared in conjunction with the 15th anniversary of the Bhopal, India, tragedy.

In India, the release of a gas from a Union Carbide pesticide plant killed 7,000 people and injured 300,000.

The report, prepared by the national PIRG and the Working Group on Community Right to Know in Washington, D.C., says Ohio's No. 1 facility was the PCS Nitrogen Ohio LP plant in Lima, where up to 125 million pounds of ammonia are stored.

Seven of the top 25 Ohio plants were included because of the volumes of ammonia, used as a farm fertilizer.

The top area plants on the list were:

JCI Jones Chemicals Inc. of Barberton. It was No. 13 in the state. It stores up to 900,000 pounds of chlorine.

B.F. Goodrich performance materials plant in Akron. It was No. 25 for up to 450,000 pounds of acrylonite.

``Fifteen years ago at Bhopal, the world saw the worst chemical disaster of all time, yet industries in Ohio continue to put communities at risk,'' Strouse said.

``Based on the amounts of extremely hazardous substances being stored at chemical facilities in Ohio, there is still dangerously high potential for a chemical accident 15 years after Bhopal,'' she said.

The eco-group says accidents happen at chemical plants and the threat of Y2K problems also raises concerns.

It called for strengthening federal right-to-know laws to increase public knowledge of chemicals being used and transported through local communities.

The report is available at the Internet site on the World Wide Web.

-- Homer Beanfang (, December 03, 1999

Answers 2


Published Friday, December 3, 1999

Many U.S. plants are ticking chemical bombs, consumer groups say

Greg Gordon / Star Tribune

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On the 15th anniversary of the chemical leak in Bhopal, India, that killed at least 4,000 people, two consumer watchdog groups declared Thursday that countless U.S. chemical facilities are "accidents waiting to happen."

Despite the lessons of Bhopal, "industries in the United States continue to put communities at risk, storing hazardous chemicals in amounts far greater" than the 90,000 pounds of toxins released in that disaster, said Jeremiah Baumann, an environmental advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

U.S. PIRG and the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know also warned that Y2K computer problems could trigger chemical accidents, perhaps disabling leak-detection systems or devices that control the pressure in storage tanks.

A Senate Y2K committee warned in late October that more than 85 percent of small and midsized chemical facilities were not prepared for potential difficulties associated with the rollover of computer systems to the year 2000, nor had they coordinated emergency plans with local officials.

"The fact is that we don't know if chemical plants are ready for Y2K," said Paul Orum, coordinator of the Working Group.

The two groups said in a report that nearly 5,000 U.S. chemical facilities store "Bhopal-scale" amounts of highly dangerous chemicals in "a single process," such as a series of tanks or pipes.

In the 1984 Bhopal catastrophe, a Union Carbide pesticide factory released about 90,000 pounds of methyl isocyanate and hydrogen cyanide when layers of safety systems failed, sending a toxic cloud over the sleeping city. More than 2,000 people died the first night and about 300,000 were injured, 80,000 of them permanently. Thousands more have since died of their injuries, pushing the toll past 4,000.

In Minnesota, the consumer groups said, 290 facilities store more than 100,000 pounds of extremely hazardous substances in a single process -- mainly ammonia, which is used by farmers as a springtime fertilizer. The two largest facilities are terminals in Rosemount and Glenwood owned by Illinois-based C.F. Industries Inc., an interregional cooperative that makes fertilizers.

Each of the terminals stores ammonia in two 30,000-ton tanks, buffered by about 15 "layers of protection," including containment dikes to collect any leakage, said Dan VanTassel, a C.F. Industries spokesman.

He said the co-op has "had an extraordinary safety record" at its 26 facilities nationwide, that neither Minnesota terminal has had an incident as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency in the last five years. Both facilities are Y2K compliant, he added.

Baumann said the U.S. Chemical Safety Board reported last spring that there were 600,000 chemical incidents in the United States between 1987 and 1996, or an average of more than 150 incidents per day involving the release of at least 100 pounds of a chemical. An average of about 250 people die each year in chemical accidents, he said.

-- Homer Beanfang (, December 03, 1999.

and they're declaring gas masks illegal to possess

-- idiots (wish@me.harm), December 03, 1999.

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