Honeywell officials admitted yesterday that toxic hydrofluoric acid leaked for approximately two hours Tuesday from its Metropolis uranium conversion facility, where Honeywell locked out 228 members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-669 on June 28.
Since the lock out began six months ago, members of USW Local 7-669 have repeatedly warned that Honeywell is endangering the community by replacing trained and experienced steelworkers with inexpert and green workers to run the nation’s only site for refining uranium for eventual use in nuclear power plants.
Here’s what Honeywell admitted:
“At around 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Metropolis plant experienced a leak of hydrofluoric acid at its tank farm. The plant sounded its emergency siren and activated its emergency response procedures as a precaution. The release was immediately contained by the plant’s water mitigation system and a team immediately began working to stop the leak. The leak was stopped before 5 p.m. local time.”
Here’s what experienced workers who are members of Local 7669 reported about the event :
“At approximately 3 p.m., picketers outside the Honeywell Metropolis uranium conversion facility noticed a large plume from the Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) Storage area. The plant’s mitigation towers, which spray water to knock down any escaping gas, were turned on and sirens were heard. The siren was turned on, then immediately off, and then later on again. The towers sprayed for approximately an hour and a half.
“Honeywell has been running the plant with replacement workers since locking out the union workforce on June 28, 2010. . .United Steelworkers Local 7-669 President, Darrell Lillie, said “We have been warning everyone for months that there is the possibility of a fatality and major breach of public safety at this plant,” and added, “The workers in the plant do not have the experience it takes to safely run this facility.”
“The plant has been recently cited for violations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and is under and EPA investigation concerning improper storage of Potassium Hydroxide (KOH). Honeywell has played down the seriousness of the events that have taken place during the six-month-long lockout.
“The community should be outraged at the way the facility is being operated and their safety at risk, and demand that someone take action before this becomes the present day Katrina,” Lillie said.
“Honeywell put out a statement that this was a “small release” of HF, however, the experienced workers of the plant, who could do nothing but watch from the picket line, know that a “small” release doesn’t require the mitigation towers to run for over an hour.
“Gary Lewis, a 14 year veteran of the plant was on the picket line when the event happened and said, “I heard the sirens and saw a large cloud of HF over the tank farm,” and added, “HF is nothing to play with, it can kill you.”
“The storage tank that failed was full and holds approximately 150,000 pounds of HF. The site typically has close to 500,000 pounds on site. Studies show that if even 10% of the HF onsite is released, it could travel up to a 25 mile radius and affect as many as 175,000 people.
“Darrell Lillie added, “If they continue to have ‘fender benders’ like they had today, it is a matter of when not if there is a ‘head on collision.’”
Concerned about the community’s safety, the locked out steelworkers have offered to train local fire departments on how to tackle fires at the Metropolis plant.
Members of the local will conduct a training program Jan. 24 at their health and safety department. They say the training will highlight chemical-specific hazards and measures to deal with a large scale fire at the plant.
Lillie issued a statement saying:
“Honeywell has not provided the training necessary to our local firefighters to be prepared to respond to such a fire. It would not have been responsible of us to recognize this gap and do nothing.”
Posted December 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm, in From the News