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93 local sites store hazardous chemicals

South Charleston man wonders if explosions could happen here.

A South Charleston resident expressed concern about the storage of anhydrous ammonia near his home after he watched video of the massive explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant.

Jim Dempsey, a funeral director and resident of South Charleston for 40 years, said the incident led him and his co-workers to question whether local emergency crews are prepared to handle a chemical fire at Trupointe, a regional farm cooperative about a mile from his home.

“It’s a horrific tragedy that has taken place,” Dempsey said. “It’s one of those things as citizens of South Charleston that we’re all concerned about and how our authorities here would handle it. I’d never thought of it when it was built, but now that this has happened in West, Texas, it brings that thought to mind.”

Trupointe officials said environmental and employee safety are extremely important to the company.

Anhydrous ammonia is a potentially volatile chemical suspected of causing or contributing to Wednesday’s explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant that had two 12,000-gallon tanks of anhydrous ammonia.

The blast left as many as five to 15 people feared dead, sent at least 180 people to hospitals and leveled buildings.

Anhydrous ammonia, which is used commercially in manufacturing, refrigeration and agriculture, is a colorless gas with a pungent smell. Exposure to ammonia in sufficient quantities can be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Storing 10,000 pounds or more of anhydrous ammonia requires a risk management plan. Plans detail how staff members are trained, how a company reports the amount of product it has on hand and maintenance requirements, said Heather Lauer, an Ohio EPA spokeswoman.

According to Ohio Department of Agriculture documents, there are 61 commercial fertilizer license holders in Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Hamilton, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Butler and Warren counties.

Those companies include fertilizer manufacturers and distributors, said Erica Hawkins, a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman.

“There is very little full-blown manufacturing that is going on in Ohio,” she said.

In and near Clark County, 93 facilities are required to report hazardous chemicals at their facilities. At least 11 of those have anhydrous ammonia, according to the Clark County Local Emergency Planning Committee.

The facilities annually report the information to the Ohio EPA, the county LEPC and fire departments.

Clark County Emergency Management Agency Director Lisa D’Allessandris and Deputy Director Ken Johnson said the local EMA performs site visits and safety exercises in preparation for a disaster.

The explosion in Texas and bombings at the Boston Marathon this week prompted conversations between the local agency and the Ohio EPA, hazmat teams and facilities with hazardous materials.

“Everybody is constantly working to make sure safety measures are in place. This is one significant incident. Something like this doesn’t happen on a regularly basis. We hope it never happens, but feel we’re prepared if it does,” Johnson said.

Officials added training and made environmental changes after the massive R.D. Holder Oil fire in 2012, D’Allessandris said, and they plan to review reports related to the Texas plant explosion for any additional changes needed.

Trupointe takes the utmost precaution to prevent accidents, spokesman Phil Altstaetter said. The cooperative complies with Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and has passed safety audits.

“We have a team of four employees — or 1 percent of our workforce — who focus not only on safety of the company and its employees, but the communities that we are a part of,” he said.

Dempsey, who has been part of the Ohio Funeral Director Mortuary Response Team since 1991, said he’s responded to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Trupointe has been a good neighbor, he said, but because agriculture is big, emergency crews should be prepared.

“It would be difficult for me to fathom that happening in Clark County. But I’m sure (the local) EMA, fire departments and Trupointe are all looking into the situation after what happened,” Dempsey said.

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