Good news? Chemical manufacturers to halt some processing at New Year's : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

WIRE:09/30/1999 17:07:00 ET

Chemical manufacturers to halt some processing at New Year's CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Some leading chemical manufacturers plan to temporarily halt operations New Year's Eve as a precaution against toxic accidents when the calendar turns from 1999 to 2000. Separately, Rhone-Poulenc also is planning to eliminate by yearend its stockpiles of methyl isocyanate _ the poisonous chemical known as MIC that was responsible for thousands of deaths in a leak at a pesticide plant at Bhopal, India, in 1984 in the world's worst industrial accident.

Managers at Rhone-Poulenc, DuPont, Monsanto Co. and Ashland Chemical all say they will temporarily idle some plant operations on the New Year's weekend.

"We feel secure that we're Y2K-compliant, but we made a decision that where prudent, we will not produce," said Tom Dover, plant support manager at Institute plant of the Paris-based Rhone-Poulenc.

In addition, Dover said Thursday that production of MIC, an active ingredient for making farm products such as pesticides, will not resume until after Jan. 1. Existing stockpiles will be used up in the remaining three months of this year.

"We recognize there are a lot of emotions around MIC," Dover said. "This is one that's always of concern."

Halts in production are not total shutdowns that would drain tanks or cease all chemical production, the manufacturers said.

The Year 2000 problem, widely known as the Y2K bug, is occurring because older computers that read only the last two digits of a year could mistake the year 2000, or "00," as 1900, causing systems to malfunction or break down.

The chemical companies want to avoid any problems with production schedules, especially for highly toxic chemicals, if computers shut down. Some worry what might occur if there are power outages at the factories because of Y2K problems at utilities that supply electricity.

Because New Year's Day is on a Saturday, companies expect production shutdowns will cause few problems and not be excessively expensive, said Jim Vitak, spokesman for Ashland Specialty Chemical Co. in Dublin, Ohio.

Certain chemical processing operations at Ashland's 15 U.S. plants will not operate from Friday night until Monday morning "to take extra precautions," he said.

Monsanto Co. will halt production for about eight hours before and after midnight on Dec. 31, said John Ogens, director of the company's Global Year 2000 Project.

While Monsanto typically shuts some plants for routine maintenance over holiday weekends, several of the companies normally run their factories around the clock every day of the year.

Concerns that electric power interruptions caused by Year 2000 computer glitches at utilities had spurred chemical industry officials to plan production halts, he said.

"Some things are out of our control," Ogens said.

The St. Louis-based firm manufactures pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products.

Paul Couvillion, global director for DuPont's Year 2000 Project, said managers at each of the company's 321 production units worlwide will decide whether to idle all or portions of the plants.

The Wilmington, Del.-based company has not yet collected information about what plant managers will do, he said.

Factors to be considered would include readiness of suppliers and production schedules, Couvillion said.

Sean Clancy, spokesman for Union Carbide Corp. in Danbury, Conn., said the manufacturer does not anticipate shutdowns at any of its seven plants in the United States.

Union Carbide had built the pesticide plant at Bhopal that in 1984 leaked five tons of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas, killing more than 3,000 people and injuring 50,000. Union Carbide paid a $470 million settlement in 1989.

-- (just@helping.out), September 30, 1999


It's Good News.

-- K. Stevens (kstevens@ It's ALL going away in, September 30, 1999.

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