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HAZMAT officials react to plant plans with concerns

November 15, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

and BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writers

The prospect of 25 trucks full of body parts, blood, contaminated carcasses and other wastes barreling over Washington County roads each day has concerned some area residents, but members of the hazardous materials team said they are prepared for the risks.

Tempico Mid-Atlantic LLC of Virginia Beach, Va., has applied for permission to build a 75-ton per day treatment plant on Western Maryland Parkway just off the Interstate 81/U.S. 40 interchange.

Greg Socks, coordinator of the hazardous materials team, said the team could handle an accident involving infectious medical waste. However, he said he does have concerns about increased risks.

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"Anytime you increase the amount of movement of any kind of waste, it increases the risk as far as having an incident. It's always a concern to me," he said.

But John Bentley, the team's deputy coordinator, said the trucking companies will have to meet a wide array of state and federal requirements above the terms the county sets. The trucks, for instance, will be much stronger than a normal tractor-trailer.

Dr. Robyn Gershon, a senior researcher at Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health and a consultant for Tempico, said those regulations make it unlikely for contamination to occur even in the event of an accident. Gershon said the materials are in special protective containers and drums.

If there is an accident, Bentley said the planned site offers ready access to a host of resources, including Fort Detrick in Frederick County.

"We're very fortunate that right down I-70 there are additional assets," he said. "We're probably better off for a facility like this versus a Garrett County or the Eastern Shore. The resources are available locally."

Socks and Bentley acknowledged the facility likely would require additional training for team members and fire and rescue personnel. But they said the team has been preparing for a possible chemical or biological warfare attack, which would tie in with an emergency involving the medical waste plant.

Socks said the team has disposable suits that would protect team members and Bentley said the team already has a wide variety of experiences.

"We are probably one of the most active in the area as far as volume of incidents and types of incidents," Bentley said.

Bentley said officials from the HAZMAT team, the county and the company would devise an emergency response plan if the facility wins approval. Bentley said such a plan would consider worst-case scenarios, such as a truck jackknifing on an off-ramp or a tornado hitting the plant itself.

Officials also would have to work out several financial and protocol details, Socks said.

For instance, in the case of a large spill, a private contractor would probably be called in to clean up the mess after HAZMAT isolates it, Socks said.

The trucking company would probably be billed for any cleanup, Socks said.

Socks said the team also would consider purchasing more equipment if the medical waste treatment plant is approved.

Company officials downplay the risk posed by the plant. W. Doyle Payne Jr., part owner of Tempico Mid-Atlantic, noted that trucks carrying medical and other hazardous wastes travel through Washington County right now on the interstates. His facility would merely be a stopover point.

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