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P&G must disclose plant's risks to public

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P&G must disclose plant's risks to public

Firms now required to describe hazards By Andrew Conte, Post staff reporter

In a worst-case scenario, Procter & Gamble's Ivorydale plant in St. Bernard could leak 18,000 gallons of liquid sulfur trioxide, creating a noxious cloud of sulfuric acid that would cause residents within a 6.8-mile radius to have itching throats and burning eyes.

It could only happen under extreme circumstances, but it's a possibility that the company must consider and describe to the public this month under new federal guidelines.

The company has never had a significant chemical release off its property in 22 years of operation, but the potential remains - at least until it stops storing sulfur trioxide on site later this year. P&G uses the chemical to make liquid laundry detergent, and trains with local hazardous materials teams to prepare for such disasters, said Ed Burcham, Ivorydale's environmental manager.

''We're trying to present the entire picture: Yes, here's the cloud but here's our emergency response plan and here's what we're doing to try to prevent accidents from happening,'' he said.

P&G and 13 other companies plan to voluntarily release information about their worst-case scenarios, their more-likely ''alternative case'' scenarios and their planned responses during a presentation by the Alliance for Chemical Safety Thursday. Funded by local firms that use chemicals, the Alliance seeks to inform the public about chemical hazards and safety measures.

The presentations are mandated under new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules. Within Hamilton County, an estimated 50 companies must devise worst-case plans and present them to the public before June 21. Nationwide, 66,000 facilities come under the disclosure law.

While the chances of such releases are rare, they are not entirely hypothetical. Last year, Cincinnati-based companies had about 115 hazardous material incidents, and firms in Hamilton County and Northern Kentucky had at least another 40, according to the Alliance. Most were small incidents, such as fuel spills.

But there have been major incidents as well in Greater Cincinnati. In July 1990, chemicals at the BASF plant in Evanston exploded, killing two, injuring 70 and forcing the evacuation of 2,000 nearby residents. If the company had been forced to provide information to the public about the chemicals, that might have prevented the explosion, activists said.

''We don't need to have another BASF explosion to say this (new information) is important for Cincinnati,'' said Rachael Belz, Ohio Citizen Action, a statewide consumer group.

Besides P&G, the Metropolitan Sewer District will talk about the potential for releasing chlorine gases from its wastewater treatment plants. Bayer Corporation will discuss the chemicals it uses at a plastics manufacturing plant in Addyston. Eleven other companies will provide shorter descriptions of risks.

While the potential for disasters may scare some people at first, environmental and health officials hope the new information will allay fears.

''No matter what chemicals the companies have in place, it shows that they have thought very carefully about possible scenarios and have made plans for those scenarios,'' said Colleen O'Toole, vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council. Seminar Thursday

The Alliance for Chemical Safety will host the risk management program seminar at 9 a.m. Thursday at the American Red Cross, 10870 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash.

Individual Alliance members host their own open-house community events throughout the month.

For more information, call Deb Leonard at 513-612-3074.

Publication date: 06-02-99

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