Air Products to shut down for Y2K : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Link dated today <:)=

Come New Year's Eve, other chemical plants will have extra people on hand in case the unexpected arises.

Taking no chances, a local chemical company says it will shut down temporarily on New Year's Eve to avoid any computer foul-ups that could lead to chemical releases.

Air Products, which employs 82 people southwest of Wichita, plans to voluntarily shut down its chemical reactors as a precaution for Y2K, the fear that older computers might mistake the new year for 1900, causing unplanned shutdowns and malfunctions.

While no other local chemical manufacturers are going to that extreme, it won't be business as usual for them, either.

Two other chemical plants in Wichita and the oil refinery in El Dorado will continue to operate, but will have extra people on hand in case the unexpected arises.

Air Products, one of the nation's largest chemical producers, is shutting down all 17 of its U.S. chemical plants.

The main concern is the loss of power at midnight, said Lauri Pyle, Air Products' plant manager in Wichita. The plant safety systems are designed to automatically shut down the plant during a power outage to prevent chemical releases. The company worried that the safety systems could malfunction.

"In this case we said, 'Why take that chance.' No one runs over midnight," Pyle said.

A mishap at the plant would pose little risk to the public, he said. At most, a chemical release of acrylonitrile, which can damage the nervous system and burn lungs, would remain dangerous for 2.6 miles, not far enough to reach the nearest neighborhood. However, the company does not want to risk exposing its employees, he said.

The decision to shut down is somewhat unusual. Most chemical plants, including the three in Wichita, operate continuously, running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Elf Atochem, a refrigerant plant, 6040 S. Ridge Road, plans to continue operations, but will have additional people on call, said Laura Dean, the Y2K coordinator.

Vulcan Chemicals, which is next door at 6200 S. Ridge Road, plans to keep producing chlorine as usual New Year's Eve.

In addition to the 50 to 60 employees working on the night shift, the company will have a dozen engineers and technical and computer experts on hand, said Paul Tobia, the plant manager.

"Some of our employees will not be celebrating New Year's this year," he said.

The plant shut down for a week in September to run its Y2K checks and has been planning for the turn of the century since 1997, he said.

Public sensitivity over chemical releases has heightened since an accident in Bhopal, India, killed 3,000 people in 1984. A federal law, passed in reaction to Bhopal rather than fears about Y2K, requires companies to warn the public by January 2000 of the worst imaginable chemical accidents that could occur at their plants.

Both Elf Atochem and Vulcan Chemicals estimate that their worse case scenarios, which the companies stress are extremely unlikely, would produce a cloud of chemicals that would remain toxic up to 25 miles away.

In Butler County, the El Dorado Refining Co., which estimates the vulnerability zone around its plant is nine miles, will continue to operate. As a precaution, the company will cancel the shift change that normally occurs around 10:30 p.m. and will have two shifts of employees working, said Frank Wheeler, the refinery president.

The company will get a dress rehearsal of sorts for Y2K. Equilon Enterprises, the parent company, owns refineries worldwide. Managers at the company's headquarters in Houston are planning a satellite link to watch its plants in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Australia and Europe as the calendar changes from 1999 to 2000.

"We'll see how all the different countries are coming through this before we get to midnight," Wheeler said.

-- Sysman (, October 06, 1999


Responsible precautionary actions...

-- Mad Monk (, October 07, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ