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Hagerstown, Williamsport officials discuss emergency plan

January 11, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

WILLIAMSPORT - Hagerstown Water Department officials met Monday with the Williamsport mayor and Town Council to discuss emergency strategies in the event of a chlorine leak at the city's R.C. Willson Water Treatment Plant in Williamsport.

"The City of Hagerstown strives to eliminate all releases and we have done so for the last 70 years," said Chemist Bob Gebbia. "But like the EPA says, you never know when a meteorite is going to hit your cylinder."

It would just about take such a natural catastrophe to crack one of the inch-thick steel canisters that hold up to 2,000 pounds of the toxic chemical chlorine, Gebbia said.

He and Guy Woodard, water production supervisor, shared with town officials and interested citizens the water department's written Risk Management Program, which is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gebbia said.

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The plan provides emergency contact numbers, outlines offsite emergency strategies for a leaking canister and the "worst-case scenario"- a ruptured canister releasing at once 2,000 pounds of chlorine - and outlines the department's preventive procedures.

If a cylinder ruptured at the 10802 Waterworks Road plant, an area within a 5.4-mile radius would be affected, Gebbia said.

That area would include 19,298 people in residences, schools, recreational facilities, nursing homes and the Washington County Detention Center, he said.

The C&O Canal National Historical Park would be an "environmental receptor," Gebbia said.

More than 200 people would be affected within about a half-mile radius if one of the chlorine process lines sprung a leak, Gebbia said.

"How do we keep it from spreading," Gebbia asked. "You can't do much."

Dikes, berms or enclosures won't contain a chlorine leak. Water department employees take extra precautions to ensure that a leak doesn't occur, he said.

Employees are trained annually, equipment is maintained on a regular basis and visually inspected every two hours, leak detectors are connected to audible and visual alarms, and chlorine is sucked from the cylinders with a vacuum to reduce the risk of leakage, Gebbia said.

The Washington County Community Rescue Service and Hazmat Response Team would be immediately called if a leak occurred, he said.

There have been no leaks during the plant's nearly 70 years in operation, Gebbia said.

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