Safety of BGE plan a concern

Neighbors fear use of toxic chemical

June 23, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and its neighbors in northeastern Anne Arundel County, who have been tangling for nearly two decades, are at odds again over the power giant's choice of new pollution controls.

To meet state requirements for lowering nitrogen oxide emissions during the summer ozone season, BGE is spending $100 million to add equipment akin to a catalytic converter at its Brandon Shores power plant.

The process, which is expected to reduce emissions by 90 percent from May through September starting next year, uses anhydrous ammonia, a hazardous substance that is a pressurized liquid form of the gas.

That has worried neighboring communities. Residents who fear an accidental release of fumes say they wish they had been invited to participate in BGE's planning process for reducing emissions. The company chose the process in 1998.

"Will schools, nursing homes, houses, have to be evacuated? If there is an accident, an emergency, we want to know if the hospitals and the fire departments can handle it," said Lester A. Ettlinger, a Stony Beach resident and former Johns Hopkins University professor of physics.

Residents of the communities, which lie along the water and are served by increasingly busy roads, fear logistics would hamper efforts to respond to an emergency.

The emergency could be a leak from a truck crash - one truck a day will make a delivery - or escaping fumes at the plant, they say. The fumes can cause respiratory irritation, they say.

"If you have to evacuate, I think you are basically talking about pandemonium," Ettlinger said.

Residents are asking BGE to consider equipment that uses a solid form of ammonia, which they believe is safer.

A Massachusetts power plant recently began using it. It is the nation's first to do so.

BGE officials said yesterday that that technology did not exist when they had to make their decision. However, BGE will track the Massachusetts plant's progress, officials said.

At a meeting last night among BGE representatives and about 15 neighborhood representatives and local officials, Ettlinger said he was not convinced.

Officials touted the safety and security measures they are installing, which include containing an accidental release of fumes and neutralizing the vapor so that it cannot catch fire.

Tracey said the highest probability of an accident is during the transfer of anhydrous ammonia from a truck to a storage tank.

BGE officials said evacuations should not be a major concern because in the event of a leak, officials prefer to keep people indoors until an ammonia cloud dissipates - and they dissipate fast.

Anhydrous ammonia is the second-most widely used chemical in the country, used in refrigeration, fertilizer-making and manufacturing.

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