Review of plans for spills is sought Lawmakers respond to chemical accident at Wagner's Point

May 23, 1998|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

In the wake of a chemical spill at Wagner's Point last week, a state lawmaker is calling on the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Baltimore Fire Department to review the way they handle hazardous-waste emergencies.

Del. Timothy D. Murphy, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood, said yesterday that he does not know why authorities did not sound a warning system that alerts residents to tune into an emergency radio channel for information.

Murphy said the residents were upset that little information was available to them about last week's spill of a liquid plant killer at LTC FMC Agricultural Products Chemicals, sending a gas plume into the air.

"The not knowing is as frightening as the chemicals themselves," Murphy said.

He said he would be writing to state Secretary of the Environment Jane T. Nishida and city Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. to examine their emergency response procedures for the area.

Murphy was among five local lawmakers who attended a meeting Thursday night at the Curtis Bay Community Center. About 50 residents from Wagner's Point, Curtis Bay and other nearby neighborhoods in South Baltimore attended.

The session was scheduled to focus on a hazardous-waste renewal permit for FMC, but the residents demanded answers about last week's spill.

Rose Hindla and her sister-in-law, Debbie Hindla, complained that Wagner's Point residents were given no information at the scene May 15 about what they needed to do to protect themselves.

"I want to know what was released that had that sickening sweet smell," Hindla said. She said many people in the neighborhood suffered sore throats and burning noses and eyes from the incident.

"What if we would have died down there?" Hindla said. "Would it have taken two to three weeks to find out what it was?"

At the meeting, Parker Dean, the plant's health, safety and environmental manager, said FMC officials are trying to determine the chemical compounds in the plume, which formed when a process used to make the liquid plant killer went awry.

He said the company has been making the herbicide without incident since 1986.

Dean said a reactor tank became "over-pressurized" when a caustic chemical was added to neutralize acid that was supposed to be in the mixture. He said there apparently was no acid in the tank.

"We know it destroyed all the herbicide," Dean said, "but what did we release?"

Dean said the company has not been able to answer that question, acknowledging that was an "inadequate explanation" unlikely to satisfy worried residents.

Murphy, state Sen. George Della Jr., Del. Brian K. McHale and City Councilman Edward L. Reisinger criticized the MDE for its handling of the spill.

McHale told MDE officials that the agency had "failed miserably" in its response and should have communicated with residents.

Harold "Butch" Dye, administrator of the MDE's hazardous-waste program, responded that the agency is conducting an internal critique on how it handled the incident.

Della suggested that the MDE consider fining the company and said a planned June 18 public hearing on FMC's request for a renewal permit should be postponed until more information is obtained on the spill.

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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