Your right to know: Local plants reveal their worst cases, prevention efforts Friday under new federal law
By Gail Krueger Savannah Morning News,February 22, 1999
By June, industries must meet a new federal right-to-know law that requires them to calculate what could happen if the most dangerous chemical they have were to escape in the most catastrophic way -- a practically unimaginable worst case scenario.
Friday, Chatham County residents are invited to have an early look at what 12 area facilities have found under the new rules.
The law is called the federal Risk Management Program -- nicknamed the 112R regulations. Twelve Chatham County facilities have enough of six covered substances on hand to be required to report under the new regulations.
The three parts of the law are hazard assessment, a prevention program and an emergency response plan -- all to be made readily available to the public.
The new regulation opens up a world of information to community leaders that can help them answer the question of how safe are their neighborhoods, said Pat Jenkins, president of the Northeast Savannah Environmental Association.
"It's information we want to have," Jenkins said.
The companies will present their worst case scenarios -- part of the hazard assessment -- alternative scenarios, accident prevention methods, emergency response plans and a five-year accident history during Friday's public showcase.
And, they are a bit nervous about it.
"They are a little bit apprehensive about it," said Amy Hughes, spokeswoman for the Manufacturers Council of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce.
"They want to make an effort to encourage a dialogue with the community, to get the conversation rolling," said Hughes, who has been helping the covered industries coordinate their presentations.
The last thing the covered facilities want is for the public to misunderstand the scariest part of their presentations -- little maps that show area of impact circles, said Arthur Banks, operations superintendent of the city's President Street Water Quality Control plant.
The impact circles -- circles the law requires them to calculate using Environmental Protection Agency formulas -- show areas of the community that could be impacted if the worst were to ever happen. Even if the worst case were to happen, it would be extremely improbable that everyone in the impact circle would be affected, Banks said.
"The law requires us to calculate a most improbable scenario. It's important the public understand just how unlikely this is and how many preventative measures we already have in place," Banks said.
The President Street sewage treatment plant is one of two city of Savannah facilities that have enough chlorine on hand to be covered by 112R. The other is the Industrial and Domestic Supply water treatment plant in Port Wentworth.
Members of the Northeast Savannah Environmental Association include residents whose homes fall into the impact area from the President Street water treatment plant and the impact circles of several other industries.
Kent Howell, hazardous materials specialist from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, also emphasizes the improbability of the scenarios the industries are required to calculate for under 112R.
"The worst case is by definition an extremely unlikely event. The whole purpose in this is to get our attention and make us think about the impact of a catastrophic event," Howell said.
Georgia's Environmental Protection Division is charged with administering the federal regulations.
While the circles may get all the attention, the most important element of the program is prevention, Howell said.
"The intent of the law is to make chemical risk information available to the public and create a dialogue between industry, government and the public," Howell said. "The hope is that everyone will get involved in the accident prevention process."
The most important part of 112R is that the covered companies have reviewed all of the materials and processes that could cause a problem and have taken steps to prevent accidents. In some cases, the new regulations require businesses to take additional steps; but the affected Chatham County companies already have done all the things the new law requires, Howell said.
All Chatham County facilities that have a threshold amount of a regulated material -- 500 to 20,000 pounds of 77 toxics and 10,000 pounds of 63 flammables -- are required to comply, said Dennis Jones, hazardous materials analyst for the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency.
The former Powell-Duffryn Terminals -- site of Savannah's worst industrial accident -- would not have been covered by 112R because the regulation only addresses manufacturing processes, not storage facilities and not tank trucks carrying materials through the area.
In April 1995, an accidental explosion and fire at the eastside storage facility left several huge tanks burning. No one was injured but neighborhoods were evacuated and some residents complained of respiratory problems.
Jenkins' parents were among those evacuated. That incident left Jenkins shaken, led her to found the Northeast Savannah Environmental Association and has kept her in an industry watchdog role ever since.
So far, only 12 facilities and six chemicals made the list, Jones said. Companies have until June 21 to complete their analysis and more companies may be found later that need to comply.
Jones said the community is already prepared to meet any emergency at the covered facilities.
Local environmental activists are looking forward to getting the additional information 112R will reveal, especially the five-year accident history each industry must provide as part of complying with the law, Jenkins said.
Each covered facility will have a brochure for each required chemical available for the public. The brochures include the impact area maps, a description of the scenarios, an outline of how the companies prevent accidents, a description of their in-plant emergency response plan, basic information on the chemical and a five-year accident history.
The information will give neighbors knowledge, and knowledge is strength, Jenkins added.
"The public needs to be more aware of what is around them," Jenkins said.
"We tend to think that EPD and EPA can handle everything, but we need to be aware, too," she said. "We must get out and learn about these things ourselves."
How to learn more
Twelve local companies that must meet the new right-to-know regulations will present their findings to the public Friday at the Savannah Civic Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Three companies will present their complete Risk Management Programs at 11 a.m. Refreshments will be served.
This is the initial list of local facilities that must comply:
City of Savannah Industrial and Domestic Water Treatment plant
City of Savannah Water Quality Control plant
Georgia Pacific Resins
Kemira Pigments Inc.
Kemwater North America
Southern States Phosphates
Union Camp Corp.
Of the 77 toxics and 63 flammables that are covered by the new regulations, the initial list of Chatham County industries includes 12 facilities that have enough of six chemicals for the regulation to apply. Those chemicals are:
Propane -- a heating fuel; flammable, fire and explosion hazard
Chlorine -- used in water treatment; greenish-yellow gas, suffocating odor, effects respiratory system when inhaled
Epichlorohydrin -- a solvent for natural and synthetic resins; a chloroform-like odor, contact and vapors may effect sensory organs, poisonous and flammable
Formaldehyde -- used as a preservative, disinfectant and antiseptic; corrosive to eyes, skin and respiratory system; flammable
Anhydrous ammonia -- used as a refrigerant and fertilizer; corrosive, may cause damage to respiratory system, skin and eyes, a liquified compressed gas, may burn but considered non-flammable
Titanium tetrachloride -- precursor for production of titanium dioxide; corrosive, reacts with water to form fumes of chloride, poisonous and corrosive Source: Savannah fire department hazardous materials team
Environmental issues reporter Gail Krueger can be reached at 652-0331.
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