Hazmat team under consideration by county LEPC

By Thomas Wilson


   Knowledge is power.
   Particularly when public safety officers are responding to a hazardous material incident that may endanger them and the general public.
   "Hazard recognition is the cornerstone of a safety response," said Max Middleton, chairman of the Sullivan County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). "You can't even begin to respond to a hazardous material incident until you know what you are dealing with."
   Middleton talked about his county's hazardous materials (Hazmat) preparation at the Carter County LEPC meeting Tuesday morning.
   The county LEPC is in the process of developing its own Hazmat response team, according to Jim Burrough, director of Elizabethton/Carter County LEPC.
   "We've applied for a $20,000 grant with the Department of Justice," said Burrough. "It will probably be in the next two or three months before we know anything."
   Burrough said the county had a mutual aid agreement with the city of Johnson City's Hazmat team in the event of an emergency.
   Congress passed legislation in 1986 that required each community to establish a LEPC to be responsible for developing an emergency plan to prepare and respond to chemical emergencies.
   Hazardous materials are defined as chemical substances, which if released or misused can pose a threat to the environment or health, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
   Materials range from regular gasoline and diesel spills to a variety of chemicals ranging from fertilizer and corrosives to common household products.
   FEMA reports that varying quantities of hazardous materials are manufactured, used, or stored at an estimated 4.5 million facilities in the United States.
   Middleton said the Sullivan County LEPC conducted an analysis on hazardous waste transported by vehicle on Interstate 181 three years ago to assess the predominance of potential chemical hazards coming through the county.
   The committee also compiled data from Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads on the hazardous materials that were coming through the county, he said.
   "We looked at the data, what we were doing from a training perspective and what we wanted to do different," he said. "We were looking at not just the types of hazardous materials, but if there were anything unusual we might not be prepared for."
   Middleton cited the study's discovery of a rail car that carried a "very unusual hazardous" material through the county every third day.
   "We were able to go back and share the nature of those hazards with emergency responders so if they did have an incident, they knew this one was one of the things they could be responding to."
   Middleton also pointed out that waste water treatment facilities use some variety of chlorine to kill biological agents and purify water supplies.
   "(Carter) County doesn't have the volume of rail or truck traffic," he said, "but that doesn't mean there aren't things in the county already or things aren't passing through."