Chemical accidents are on the rise this year in Richmond County.
Since Jan. 1, six accidental releases have been reported to the county's Emergency Management Agency, compared to seven throughout all of 1997.
"This time last year, we only had one reported release, and that one held almost the whole year," EMA Director Pam Tucker said. "So we're definitely having more so far this year."
The largest accident reported this year occurred Jan. 17, when 2,300 pounds of ammonia -- 23 times the amount needed to trigger an accident report -- escaped during a routine shutdown activity at PCS Nitrogen. No injuries were reported.
Other 1998 accidents include a March 29 explosion at Huron Tech, which released an unknown quantity of liquid sodium chlorate. The explosion caused no injuries and was attributed to an unforeseen reaction with plastic.
Mrs. Tucker hopes the list of accidents on record will not grow further.
"We're still not doing too badly," she said. "It would be great to have zero accidents, but seven last year is still very, very few, especially considering all the industries we have."
At least one 1998 reported spill -- a Jan. 22 release of 0.75 pounds of sulfur trioxide from Amoco Polymers -- involved less than the minimum reportable quantity, Mrs. Tucker said.
"That one was logged at the request of the company for record-keeping purposes and was an expected release that occurred during maintenance," she said. "The amount was negligible."
Spills reported in 1997 included two at DSM Chemicals: 500 gallons of toluene Oct. 2 and 125 pounds of ammonia Sept. 19. Others involved 231 pounds of ammonia at Arcadian March 14; 80 pounds of chlorine at International Paper Sept. 18; and 18 pounds of sodium bicromate from Huron Tech on Sept. 29.
Although only seven accidents were reported in 1997, there were 15 reported in 1996 and 34 in 1995, according to EMA records.