Panel plans for the worst

October 21, 1997


Staff Writer

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook admits that when he first took office he didn't know what the Local Emergency Planning Committee was, let alone what it did.

"Now that I know, I also know we are all a little safer because of the work of LEPC," Snook said at the organization's 10th anniversary recently.

The organization informs and educates citizens about the potential hazards of chemical emergencies in Washington County.

Dave Clemens, a projects manager for the Breyers/Good Humor ice cream plant off Frederick Street, knows the LEPC's mission all too well. "When the incident occurred at our plant in June 1995, there was information readily available on the chemicals involved," Clemens said at the Oct. 9 anniversary luncheon.


And he added that emergency personnel responding to the incident lost no time in dealing with the leakage of just under 100 pounds of ammonia at the plant that day.

A review of the June 7, 1995, incident by the Maryland Occupation and Safety Health Administration showed no major violations, he said.

LEPC has sponsored training by the Hagerstown Fire Department that already has certified 28 hazardous materials technicians, trained to know what to do when a particular chemical is released into the environment.

In addition, Clemens said, many local fire departments have toured the Breyers/Good Humor plant for firsthand information.

Ammonia is the primary coolant for the operation at Breyers, according to Clemens. It is in a closed loop system but leaks can occur.

During 1996, the county's Hazardous Incident Response Team (HIRT) responded to about 72 calls involving chemicals, according to John Bentley, LEPC co-chairman.

Recently, the LEPC received a $20,750 federal grant for public service television announcements, a training program video on hazardous materials, and a large-screen projector system for presentations, brochures and pamphlets.

That grant was matched by the county with an additional $4,250.

Already LEPC has produced a video titled, "You Have A Right To Know," which gives employees, fire and rescue companies and the 911 Center information about the storage and use of chemicals in area businesses.

LEPC is mandated under Title III of the Federal Superfund and Reauthorization Act. The 13 members include representatives of emergency service agencies, businesses associated with environmental protection, health care and the media.

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