Y2K concerns over chemical plants

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Trenton Times dated May 10 1999 <:)=

TRENTON -- Could year 2000 technology failures lead to the release of toxic substances from chemical plants?

That's the question the U.S. Senate's special committee on the year 2000 problem wants to answer today as it tours a Burlington County factory and holds a hearing at the State House.

The state's chemical industry says it will be ready for the Y2K computer date-recognition problem, and there's little chance of any accidents that might pose a risk to the public. But environmental activists say the risks that remain are "perilous," and are calling on state regulators to verify the industry's claims of compliance.

U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and the staff of the Senate committee want to know if enough is being done to safeguard the public from a variety of potential Y2K problems, including everything from power failures to interruption of government benefit programs.

Chemical companies use date-sensitive technology in automation systems that control the flow of chemicals throughout their facilities. These microprocessors, known as "embedded systems," also guide safety systems. Many use a two-digit date storage format that may not properly recognize "00" as the year 2000.

New Jersey was chosen for the Senate hearing because it has one of the largest chemical industries in the country, with more than 800 plants employing nearly 100,000 workers. There are 172 facilities handling potentially toxic materials in Mercer and Burlington counties -- including 33 in the city of Trenton -- and in Bucks County, Pa., .

Bennett and his staff will tour the Sybron Chemical Inc. facility in Pemberton Township this morning, with the State House hearing scheduled to begin at noon. One of the witnesses will be Dr. Gerald Poje of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

IN A REPORT on Y2K risks for the chemical industry, Poje found that large chemical and pharmaceutical companies "are unlikely to experience catastrophic failures." But the readiness of smaller players is unclear.

"One theme all experts agree on is that failure from Y2K noncompliance at small and mid-sized enterprises is more likely," the report found. "The reason is a general lack of awareness, lack of resources and technical know-how for fixing the problems. . . . In the little time left, there is very little chance of changing that reality."

Assumptions that smaller chemical firms are unprepared for Y2K are not accurate, said Hal Bozarth of the Chemical Industry Council of New Jersey.

"Everyone knows duPont, but they may not know the Hal Bozarth Chemical Co.," he said. "That doesn't mean the Hal Bozarth Chemical Co. isn't on top of the issue. It just means people are not as familiar with them.

"The chemical process industry was one of the leaders in incorporating technology into its manufacturing systems," Bozarth added. "We think that because of the technical expertise in the industry, (Y2K) will be a relatively low concern for us. I think New Jersey's chemical companies are ready to meet the challenge."

Jane Nogaki of the New Jersey Work Environment Council had a different perspective, noting that industry expertise hasn't prevented 8,247 reported releases of "extremely hazardous" substances reported to the state since 1986.

"It is our contention that despite corporate and government efforts to identify and remedy Y2K problems, the situation in New Jersey remains perilous for workers and residents alike," said Nogaki. "Despite assurances, no one knows how many glitches may occur when the clock strikes midnight. The results could include catastrophic chemical releases putting thousands of workers and citizens at risk and damaging the environment.

"The potential for an accident is there, but it's a very preventable thing if the companies do a thorough examination of their processes," she added. "The problem is that there isn't an accounting of how mid-sized and small companies are doing. It's largely an unknown risk at this time because there really isn't any way of assessing their readiness, and no one at the state level has really tried."

NOGAKI'S ADVICE to the Senate committee is "not to overreact to potential dangers, but not to underreact, either." She called on the state Department of Environmental Protection to take steps to independently verify the compliance claims of chemical manufacturers.

One area where Nogaki and Bozarth agree is that the chemical industry will be affected by the Y2K readiness -- or lack thereof -- of other significant players.

"One of our biggest concerns is whether our friends in the monopoly utility industry will be able to keep the power on," said Bozarth. "That's a real concern for us. It's not the chemical companies or pharmaceutical companies you need to worry about. It's the utilities who are not used to the scrutiny."

A recent report by the North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry group, said nearly three quarters of all electric utilities will complete their year 2000 projects by June 30. Some industry critics say that assessment is optimistic.

Nogaki said chemical firms need to work with suppliers as well as with local emergency management officials in developing contingency plans.

"There will be additional pressure on emergency management teams to respond to Y2K incidents," said Nogaki, a member of the Burlington County Local Emergency Planning Committee. "The Y2K issues are multifaceted, although the chemical one has the most potential for danger.

New Jersey firms face a June 21 deadline to file a Risk Management Plan with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"Their risk management plan requires them to determine their worst-case scenario and how they would go about handling it," Nogaki said.

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), May 10, 1999


I am just glad that I do not live in New Jersey.

-- Mike Lang (webflier@erols.com), May 10, 1999.

Good one Sysman,

Well worth reading, as background ...

****Industrial Chemical Safety Report****

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id= 000iNi

For additional perspective you can wade through the flames to the juicy stuff at ...

Another chemical plant explosion, just reported on the CBS radio network

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id= 000k3u

Or ...

Chemicals in Your Community
A Guide to the Emergency Planning and Community
Right-to-Know Act

[Long, long, but interesting document] ...

... (Note this document is similar to EPA document EPA 550-K-93-003 (also known as U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1988 516-002/80246) printed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, September, 1988, Washington, DC 20460 except for information that has been updated, and page referencing which has been changed to adapt to the Internet requirements.)

http:// www.epa.gov/swercepp/pubs/chem-com.html

See also ...

Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office (CEPPO) ... includes counter-terrorism links & info ...


And ...

American Chemical Society ... a good place to just explore the links ...


Its a Y2K industry to watch ... closely. Too many potential critical hazards possible.


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), May 10, 1999.

Hi. I do not live in N.J. but I do live about 1,000 feet from Ashland Chemical Company. They said 'no problem' but they were not specific as to what exactly is stored there. One for sure chemical stored there is formaldahyde (hope i spelled it right), they use computers to generate the flow and the plant has all kinds of pipes, so I guess this is where the chemicals flow. Anyone know what formaldahyde does? Any way I can find out what else may be stored there? They said dont worry, so I am even more worried. They did not say if their systems were compliant, only they are 'working on it'. Any advice?

-- consumer (private@aol.com), May 10, 1999.


Are you talking about the Ashland plant in KY? If so did you notice how they are moving the HQ to south of Cincinati? Getting all the corporate folks outta there. Watching in Louisville.

-- Johnny (jljtm@bellsouth.net), May 10, 1999.

See thread ...

Bennett on Y2K and Chemical Plants

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id= 000oXd

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), May 10, 1999.

A computer consultant friend of mine, who was working on a contract in London last fall, puts chemical plants or manufacturing facilities dealing with volatile elements as his number one Y2K concern. Why? He toured one such plant in which computer systems were the only way to control a very dangerous, volatile process. He talked with one of the engineers and asked him if they had any concerns about Y2K problems and safety. The engineer happily informed him the company was very safety oriented. They even had an identical back-up computer system which could immediatiely take over if the first one had any glitches.

All my friend could do was raise his eyebrows and ask, "Did you say 'identical' back-up system?" After a few seconds the engineer got the message and "turned a little pale" according to my friend. In that plant, at least, he knows that both systems are now getting looked at VERY carefully. However, now that my friend has experienced an otherwise very intelligent person not seeing the forest for the trees, he admits he's scared.

You can chalk this up to another unconfirmed report, or believe it, as you choose.

-- Bonnie Camp (bonniec@mail.odyssey.net), May 10, 1999.

On the Southeast corner of Longview Tx. resides the Texas Eastman chemical plant. In the early 70's this plant experienced an explosion which shattered windows within a 3 mile radius and cracked the windows in our school 15 miles away. I was at the school when the explosion happened and remember it well. Follow up reports after the explosion revealed that Longview had indeed been lucky, as the Liquid Oxygen plant inside the complex had not detonated. If that had been the case local residents would have been treated to the near equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off in their backyards, and a death toll in the tens of thousands. This same plant also handles numerous poisonous gasses which are heavier than air. I don't think most people realize just how large a threat the local Chemical plant really is.

-- Nikoli Krushev (doomsday@y2000.com), May 10, 1999.

Nikoli & Bonnie,

My head hurts.

It just occured to me.

How many companies in Silicon Valley work with and store chemicals, that would NOT be considered a "chemical" company? As in silicon chip manufacturing facilities, et. al.? And anything combining chemical use with process control automation?

*Very Big Sigh*


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), May 11, 1999.

Dianne. The local propane company has installed a remote propane tank about three quarters of a mile from my house. I estimate it's capacity at between 40 and 50 thousand gallons. A creek runs within 150 yards of the tank flowing towards my home and crosses the highway about two hundred yards from my house. The tank is above ground and the prevailing winds blow directly from it towards me. Can you imagine the fuel air explosion that would result from 20 or 30 thousand gallons of propane strung out a nearly a mile long? Every time I drive past that tank a chill runs down my spine.

-- Nikoli Krushev (doomsday@y2000.com), May 11, 1999.

Hi again all. I'm speaking of Ashland Chemical in Cleveland Ohio. I know they are a smaller branch of most likely the one discussed here. I am deeply concerned. As it stands now, last summer we had a Major fire, one fireman whom lives in the neighborhood, got his family and ran for cover. Didnt even bother to let us know till we had our community meeting at which time we then decided to meet with Ashland and find out 'what' is being stored there. They presented a video and admitted they had 'no emergency' plan to alert the neighbors!!!!!! But stressed safety, blah blah blah. I was the one who brought up y2k, and this is when we got the infamous 'we are working on it', is there anyway I can alert someone to see if they are really working on it?

-- consumer (private@aol.com), May 11, 1999.


I just posted a FOLLOW-UP to this story. It looks like the finger pointing is starting here in NJ. So depending on how things are in OH, you may have to do some work to find out who is responsible. Since there was a recent fire, maybe the local fire company can give you some pointers. Just my $.02 <:)=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), May 11, 1999.

FWIW, I attended the Embedded Systems Conference in Chicago in early March. The presenter on "Embedded Systems and Y2K" had spent a lot of his time the last couple of years remediating for the electric industry. From his hands-on exposure he stated that the vulnerabilities were less in the power plants and distribution networks than was feared. However, his real concern was over what he called "second and third tier" processes, specifically chemical plants, manufacturing plants, etc. His main concern was that they had not realized as early as the power companies that they had problems. Yikes!

His hands-on exposure to the power industry caused me to downgrade my Y2K assessment from an 8-9 to a 7-8. We might not lose power nation- wide. But we sure could see some major breakdowns in other sectors of the infrastructure. A serious depression is still all too likely, IMO. The embedded systems problem is still very real.

-- David Palm (djpalm64@yahoo.com), May 11, 1999.

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