Poll finds many NJ factories mum on millenium buggreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Link Poll finds many N.J. factories mum on the millennium bug
Wednesday, December 1, 1999
By DEBRA LYNN VIAL Staff Writer
Many New Jersey chemical companies are refusing to say whether their factories are prepared for potential year 2000 computer problems, says a study by a state environmental group.
The Work Environment Council has called for Governor Whitman to order immediate spot-checks of plants because almost half of 50 factories surveyed failed to answer even the most basic questions about safety.
Although that does not mean the plants are unprepared, it is upsetting in an industry that already reports hundreds of accidents a year involving toxic chemicals, said Jim Young, the council's special-project director.
"Citizens living and working near facilities that failed to respond to our survey have a legitimate reason to worry," Young said.
Industry officials Tuesday said they are prepared and do not expect problems.
"We are ready," said Bob Burlew, a union official at Merck & Co.'s Rahway plant. He has spent four years working on the Y2K problem. The company has enough gas, water, and generators to keep the factory operating for weeks. More than 200 engineers will be on hand during the holiday to repair any problems, he said.
Some factory owners said they did not respond to the poll because they did not want to participate in anything connected with a group known for criticizing their industry.
"We advised our membership not to respond," said Julie Booth, a spokeswoman for the Chemical Industry Council. "Since we know they are working diligently . . . it wasn't worth their time."
But the problem, said Young, is that no one knows what New Jersey factories have done to prepare for the millennium bug. A Texas group conducting a similar survey in October also criticized the Garden State's chemical plants for not cooperating.
Meanwhile, state and federal environmental agencies have left chemical factories largely on their own in deciding how to handle potential problems. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's only action was to mail a memo reminding companies of the possibility of a computer glitch.
"We are not Big Brother," said Amy Collings, a DEP spokeswoman.
A computer malfunction could cause a fire or explosion. Several major New Jersey chemical companies, such as Du Pont, are taking the Y2K threat so seriously they plan to shut down operations New Year's Eve.
But federal officials warn that many smaller factories nationwide are so unprepared they are jeopardizing the safety of thousands of workers and residents. In October, a U.S. Senate committee took the unusual step of alerting federal, state, and local emergency officials to begin immediate "contingency planning" for chemical accidents.
"The problem is that we just don't know what's going on in the plants," said Rick Engler, president of the Work Environment Council.
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), December 01, 1999
This is one of those potential Y2K achilles heels.
-- Diane J. Squire (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 01, 1999.