List of questions for chemical companies in your community : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Key Questions for a Chemical Company Near You

Starting in 1999, thousands of facilities that use extremely hazardous substances are required by the Clean Air Act, section 112(r), to disclose to workers and the public what could go wrong in chemical accidents, from the most-likely accidents to worst-case scenarios. The scenarios are part of larger Risk Management Plans, and are typically shown on a map as a worst-case circle or "vulnerability zone" around a facility.

In communities across the country, the chemical industry is promoting "community dialogues" (public relations events) to release hazard information. Below are sample questions that every plant manager should be able to answereven if no PR event is planned for your area. Remember that the primary goal is to prevent chemical hazards, rather than to find better ways to respond to accidents.


Questions for companies:

[1] What chemicals do you have on-site that can hurt my family where we live, work, or play?

[2] How many people could be killed or hurt in the worst-case circle around your facility (including all neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, office buildings, highways, jails, sports arenas, and shopping malls)?

[3] How confident can I be that sensors and alarms will alert us to a chemical release, particularly at night?

[4] If there is a release, how will I get information to protect my family?

[5] What if property values go down because we live in your worst-case circlewill you negotiate buyouts or otherwise compensate us?

[6] Do you have enough insuranceand how muchto cover potential losses within the worst-case release zone? Were you ever denied liability insurance for safety reasons?

[7] What practical steps are you taking against potential sabotage, such as reducing hazards, widening buffer zones, and increasing site security?

[8] What steps have you taken to fix "year 2000" computer problems that could cause a release?

[9] How many victims (including contaminated victims) can local fire fighters, emergency medical services, and hospitals handle in a worst-case release?

[10] What truck, rail, or barge routes do you use to ship chemicals through the community?

[11] Is your worst-case scenario distance shorter than EPAs (using EPAs reference table of worst-case dispersion distances)? If so, why?

[12] Can we inspect your facility with an expert of our choosing?

[13] Have you tried to prevent people from freely communicating about chemical hazards?

[14] Will you put supporting documents in the local library (such as process hazards analyses, offsite consequences analyses, safety audits, and hazard reduction plans)?

Hazard reduction questions [----------------------------------------------------]

[15] What safety changes do you plan to reduce chemical hazards?

Will you make inherent safety changes such as:

[a] Substituting less hazardous chemicals?

[b] Reducing storage quantities and shipping?

[c] Switching to ambient temperatures and pressures?

[d] Simplifying processes to anticipate errors?

Will you make other safety improvements such as:

[e] Using safer shipping and handling?

[f] Installing secondary containment?

[g] Adding automatic sensors and shutoffs?

[h] Adding devices to neutralize or destroy leaks?

[16] On what schedule do you plan to make these safety changes?

[17] How much will these changes reduce the worst-case vulnerability zone? By when do you plan to reduce your vulnerability zone to zero?

"Shelter in place" questions [----------------------------------------------------]

[18] If you are telling people to "shelter in place," do you have any real life examples that sheltering works in a major release?

[19] How long will it take (in minutes) for:

you to find a leak?you to decide to report?you to notify the fire department?

the fire chief to arrive on-scene?

the chief to order protective action?

responders to notify the public?

workers and neighbors to shelter-in-place?

workers and neighbors to evacuate?

all of these events added together?

[20] How long will it take (in minutes) for:

a toxic cloud to reach my house (school, library, hospital, etc.)?

toxic gases to filter into places where people "shelter in place"?

[21] Given these time estimates, how big is the zone where neither sheltering nor evacuation will work?

Compiled by Paul Orum, Working Group on Community Right-to-Know 218 D Street, SE; Washington, DC 20003 Phone: 202-544-9586; Fax: 202-546-2461; E-mail:

For help with questions or answers, feel free to contact Dr. Fred Millar at (703) 998-0996 or

===== Working Group on Community Right-to-Know 218 D Street, SE; Washington, DC 20003 Phone: 202-544-9586; Fax: 202-546-2461

-- d (, November 07, 1999


Thanks d, this is helpful...---...

-- Les (, November 07, 1999.

This is interesting for the future. But don't you guys think this is entirely too late?

I grew up in Chemical Valley, Charleston, WV, where Union Carbide [and now Rhone-Poulenc] made/makes methyl isocynate. This is the oderless, invisible gas that killed more than two thousand people in Bohpal, India in 1985.

After years of citizen action, there seems to be a relationship between the people who live near the Institute, WV plant and the company execs. But then, here is an article from Oct. 18, 1999.

It is long, but understand this:

It was preceded by several reports that the MIC tanks would be emptied for the rollover.

No, says reporter Ken Ward, Jr., they were going to have a low inventory level anyway as many such operations are done in batches, and they don't want a "glitch" [I hate that word] to ruin any processing equipment. In other words, this small inventory idea was not to protect the neighbors, it was to protect the equipment.

I plan to have my loved ones with me for the rollover, over fifty miles and many ridges away.

Perhaps nothing will occur, perhaps occurances will be contained, but asking chemical companies anything at this point is TOO LATE. My opinion.


-- Becky (, November 07, 1999.


I agree -- it IS very late in the game to be asking questions in preparation for Y2K. But these are the sorts of questions communities should be asking regardless of Y2K. Chemical accidents and toxic releases happen every day (approximately 25 per day in California!) The public has the right -- and responsibility -- to find out which toxics are handled in their communities and whether less hazardous alternatives can be substituted.

The new "right-to-know" legislation gives the public more tools to find out about the toxics handled in their communities (as well as giving emergency responders a heads-up on possible hazards they might encounter at specific facilities).

Also, some experts believe that Y2K-related chemical incidents could happen after the roll-over as internal system problems may surface long after Jan 1, 2000.

External problems could also trigger chemical incidents. E.g. if we have a situation of power losses or rolling brownouts, we could see increased numbers of chemical incidents because shutdowns and startups are the riskiest times for many of these companies, especially those operating continuous (rather than batch) processes, and especially if the shutdown is unplanned and rushed.

Thanks for the link on Rhone-Poulenc. It's sad how these companies put protecting the bottom line ahead of safeguarding communities.

-- d (, November 08, 1999.

After learning that our county has 54 plants that handle hazardous chemicals, I called our county's Emergency Management Agency and asked whether they had sent a list of these hazardous chemicals to the Directors of Emergency Medicine at our two hospitals. They had not thought to do that, I was told. I pointed out that hospitals may want to have specific antidotes and equipment available and may also want to conduct inservices to refresh emergency personnel on decontamination and treatment procedures.

The EMA guy said he knew the Emergency Med Director's name at one hospital, so he would send him a list. But the second hospitl had been through some staffing changes so he wouldn't know where to send it, there. I told him I would get the name for him. (Sheesh!) I then wrote the EM Directors and advised them that the list would be forthcoming from EMA with a cc to EMA.

Don't take for granted that your local emergency management agency has covered all the bases. Do what you can.

-- Faith Weaver (, November 08, 1999.

Great idea Faith! I hadn't thought of contacting hospitals.

-- d (, November 08, 1999.

DC ignores Blue Plains (water treatment plant) safety lapses:

-- d (, November 08, 1999.

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