Richmond Plant Safety Pact OK'd: General Chemical, Environmentalists Sign Agreement on Safeguards at a New Sulfuric Acid Factory

    In a landmark settlement that averts possible lengthy court battles, General Chemical Co. and environmentalists have signed a contract to improve safeguards at a new sulfuric acid plant in Richmond.

    The agreement, signed Tuesday, satisfies representatives of the community that bore the brunt of a toxic cloud released into the atmosphere in 1993.

    General Chemical has agreed to pay $ 130,000 for an independent health and safety review of the plant, which is scheduled to be built later this year, and to fund local environmental programs.

    In return, Communities for a Better Environment, West County Toxics Coalition and Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council pledged not to sue General Chemical and the City of Richmond for not providing an environmental assessment of the new plant.

    "We're glad we could come together and come up with something that works for both of us," said Michael Herman, deputy general counsel at General Chemical.

    The money will go to nonprofits, which will use $ 15,000 for an independent safety audit of the new plant and $ 50,000 to fund environmental groups through the Rose Foundation in Oakland. The City of Richmond will get $ 50,000 for safety programs, and CBE will receive $ 15,000 in attorney's fees.

    The dispute over the new sulfuric acid plant arose last summer when environmental groups realized that the Richmond City Council was not going to require an environmental review of the new plant.

    After six levels of appeal, CBE prepared to sue both the city and General Chemical.

    Tuesday's agreement includes provisions for arbitration and, in case of dispute, court enforcement of the contract.

    General Chemical also has agreed to pay up to $ 75,000 in improvements suggested by the safety auditor and to hire skilled union labor to build the plant.

    "We were concerned that General Chemical would bring in unskilled contract workers to build the sulfuric acid plant," said Richard Drury, a CBE lawyer.  "Now, we'll know that this plant will be built as safely as possible."

    Industry and environmental representatives agree that the new plant will produce benefits by cutting the Bay Areals inventory of oleum, fuming sulfuric acid.

    In the new plant, in case of accident, the oleum will be captured and returned to the system instead of being vented into the air.

    Oleum escaped to the atmosphere from a pressure-relief valve at General Chemicalls Richmond plant in 1993, causing coughing, shortness of breath, running eyes, nausea and other symptoms among 24,000 who visited hospitals.

    At the time, General Chemical stored oleum in Richmond, then trucked it to a sulfuric acid-producing plant in Pittsburg. The pure acid is a commercial product sold to semiconductor manufacturers.

    But at the state-of-the-art plant in Richmond, the oleum will be immediately used where it is produced, thus eliminating 1.8 million pounds in storage, according to Herman.

 
 

Copyright 1996 The Hearst Corporation
The San Francisco Examiner
February 7, 1996, Wednesday; Second Edition
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A-5
SOURCE: EXAMINER ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER
BYLINE: JANE KAY