Originally created 12/30/98

Chemical accidents increased in 1998



Chemical accidents among 240 Richmond County industries that store dangerous materials rose slightly during 1998, but the figures still reflect a gradual downward trend.

According to the Richmond County Local Emergency Planning Committee's 1998 annual report, 10 releases involving reportable quantities of toxic chemicals were reported since Jan. 1, up from seven incidents in 1997.

Sulfur trioxide, involved in three incidents this year, attracted the most attention and caused the most injuries, according to the report.

About 100 people were evacuated along Clanton Road after a Jan. 11 spill at Amoco Polymers released 82 pounds of the material. Releases from General Chemical Nov. 17 and Nov. 20 sent 90 people to area hospitals.

Although the number of accidents was up slightly over 1997, better safety programs and environmental compliance have helped reduce accident figures substantially, said Virgil Fowler, the LEPC's chairman.

"You have to consider whether there are more spills, or whether people are just doing a better job of reporting," he said. "Companies are more likely than in previous years to report spills, so we get a lot of reports involving insignificant quantities."

In 1996, local industries reported 18 accidents, compared to 34 releases in 1995. Mr. Fowler hopes the numbers will continue to remain below the levels of a few years ago.

He added that "reportable" releases don't include all accidents.

"In a lot of the reports that do come in, many are less than the reportable quantity. Ammonia, for example, is 100 pounds, chlorine is 10 pounds, so anything less than that would not be listed in the annual report."

For example, the LEPC report does not include a March 29 incident at Huron Tech in which liquid sodium chlorate exploded. Mr. Fowler said that incident attracted a lot of attention, but did not release large quantities of chemicals.

Richmond County industries store a total of 65 million pounds of the 94 "extremely hazardous substances" listed under state and federal reporting requirements, according to the Washington-based Public Interest Research Group, an environmental watchdog organization.

Reported chemical releases, year-to-date:

Jan 11: Amoco Polymers, sulfur trioxide, 82 pounds

Jan 17: PCS Nitrogen, ammonia, 2,300 pounds.

March 6: DSM Chemicals, sulfur trioxide (oleum), 500 gallons.

Aug. 24: Kendall Corporation, ethylene oxide, 41.34 pounds.

Aug. 25: International Paper, chlorine, 30 pounds.

Sept. 3: Huron Tech, sodium chlorate, 2,000 pounds.

Oct. 2: Oxychem, sodium hydroxide, 4,500 pounds.

Nov. 17: General Chemical, sulfur trioxide.

Nov. 20: General Chemical, sulfur dioxide.

Nov. 24: Kendall Corporation, ethylene oxide, 32.7 pounds.

SOURCE: Richmond County Local Emergency Planning Committee

Robert Pavey covers environmental issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.