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CONSUMERS UNION FINDS NEW YORK CITY UNPREPARED FOR MAJOR TOXIC ACCIDENT

CONSUMERS UNION FINDS NEW YORK CITY UNPREPARED FOR MAJOR TOXIC ACCIDENT
 NEW YORK, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- New York City is unprepared for a major toxic chemical accident, according to a report issued today by the Consumer Policy Institute (CPI), a division of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.
 Chemicals classified as "Extremely Hazardous Substances" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are handled by several hundred New York City industrial facilities in the five boroughs and could touch off a wide-ranging disaster, warns the report.
 "All of these substances are immediately dangerous to life and health if they escape in a toxic cloud or vaporize in a fire," says Eileen Nic, one of two co-authors of the report, "Toxic Chemical Accident Risks in New York City."
 Thirteen facilities are singled out by CPI as posing the greatest risk to the city in a worst-case accident. "Each of these plants could potentially create a vulnerable zone -- an area in which there could be serious injury or death -- with a radius stretching more than seven miles from the plant," Nic said. Eight of the 13 riskiest facilities are located in Brooklyn, three in the Bronx, one in Manhattan and one in Queens. Four of the Brooklyn facilities are clustered within two miles of Brooklyn's downtown and Borough Hall.
 CPI recommends that two of the 13 riskiest facilities -- water treatment plants operated by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Bureau of Water Supply in Manhattan and the Bronx -- switch as rapidly as possible from their present chlorine- based process (which could release a deadly chlorine cloud many miles long in a worst-case accident) to one of the safer processes used by other municipalities. The Manhattan facility is located in Central Park; the Bronx facility in Jerome Bark near the Bronx High School of Science and the Bronx Zoo.
 "Both plants are located in densely populated areas where rapid evacuation would be impossible," said Barbara Warren, an environmental health scientist and a report co-author.
 Three of the 13 riskiest facilities, Dexter Chemical in the Bronx, and R&A Specialty Chemical and Blue Ridge Farms in Brooklyn, have already had two or more accidents in the last two years requiring intervention by the NYC DEP or Fire Department Hazardous Materials teams to bring them under control.
 In fact, says the report, there have been, and continue to be, many small- and moderate-size accidents at these and other facilities -- accidents the report classifies as "near misses." In incidents of this kind, it is usually plant workers, firemen and policemen who suffer most. Thus far, a major disaster has been averted by fortunate turns of events which have spared New York City from large-scale injuries and loss of life.
 "Even a moderate-size accident at any one of these facilities could threaten a great many lives," Warren says. "These facilities, in cooperation with the NYC DEP, should develop and begin implementing plans for reducing risks within six months.
 "Much more can and should be done to prepare for a chemical emergency. Unfortunately, our Local Emergency Planning Committee is moribund."
 New York City was required to create a Local Emergency Planning Committee, under a federal law passed in 1986. However, the committee has not met in more than a year. The report recommends that, for each borough, a new, active LEPC be created, making it possible to more accurately identify hazardous facilities and map evacuation routes.
 "Local Emergency Planning activities must be an open public process," says co-author Nic. "The public must be involved." And funding is critical.
 Included among 15 key recommendations for change, CPI suggests that a tax be placed on hazardous substances used or moved through the city in order to finance increased city accident prevention and emergency planing efforts; fines for company failures to report EHS chemicals on site be increased; and new fines be established that penalize companies for maintaining unsafe conditions.
 -0- 12/3/91
 /NOTE TO EDITORS: A complete list of recommendations is available/
 /CONTACT: Rana Arons of Consumers Union, 914-378-2434/ CO: Consumer Policy Institute ST: New York IN: CHM SU:


GK-TS -- NY002 -- 8643 12/03/91 10:00 EST
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Date:Dec 3, 1991
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