Training offered to residents fearful of industrial accidents Neighborhoods uneasy in wake of Dec. blast

February 13, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

At a community meeting last night in Fairfield, the city's civil defense agency offered to train residents there and in Wagners Point in how to respond to an industrial accident, such as an explosion or chemical spill.

Residents of the heavily industrialized South Baltimore communities organized the spirited meeting at the Fairfield firehouse after a chemical explosion at an FMC Corp. plant in December injured six workers. Residents complained at the time that they were not properly prepared for emergencies and did not know what kinds of hazardous materials were stored in their neighborhood.

"Obviously, community awareness has gone by the wayside," said Richard McKoy, the city's director of civil defense, who offered training in a safety technique known as "shelter in place."

"This kind of ignorance is unnecessary," he said.

Beside the firetrucks, about 100 residents, a handful of public officials and a lone representative of the chemical industry discussed the communities' concerns.

Dels. Timothy D. Murphy and Brian K. McHale, Democrats who represent the area, spoke briefly about the federal "right to know" law that requires companies to disclose what toxic chemicals they store.

Also at last night's meeting, the University of Maryland's environmental law center presented a report that criticized FMC and other chemical companies for not widely publicizing their emergency response plans.

Residents said they did not know whether they should stay indoors or leave the area during emergencies.

"I don't know what's what with all the sirens going off all the time," said Fairfield resident Louis Johnson.

Other residents expressed concern that the access road to the neighborhoods might be blocked, preventing them from leaving in case of an accident.

The training offered by McKoy was greeted as a positive first step. "We can get it all done in a day," said Jeannette Skrzecz, president of the neighborhood coalition.

FMC did not send an official to the meeting, but a chemical industry spokesman, Mike Lunsford, told the group, "I realize you folks don't have a lot of information. We need to work on that."

Thomas Voltaggio, a federal environmental official, urged the group to "seize the opportunity" for more public education. "Inside the plant, chemical companies know what they're doing," he said.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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