Friday, March 20, 2009

Chemical Hazards in Clark County

Hazardous chemicals are a part of modern life. They provide us with energy, clean water, paper, cleaning supplies, and many other products and services that we use every day. Clark County has several companies that manufacture, store, and use hazardous chemicals. For 2007, 99 companies reported inventories of regulated chemicals at 136 locations in Clark County. An enormous amount of chemicals also travel on the Columbia River and on our highways and railways. Less visible but no less important are the approximately 14 miles of liquid fuel pipeline and 56 miles of natural gas pipeline that go through the county.

These chemicals present significant risks to our community. Accidental spills happen regularly. Fortunately, federal regulations such as EPCRA and the Clean Air Act and industry participation in toxics use reduction efforts have steadily reduced our risks over the years. Businesses are under stringent requirements that regulate how they store, use, ship, and dispose of hazardous materials. The more hazardous types of chemicals such as chlorine and ammonia are controlled by additional requirements. As a result, most of the chemical accidents we have are small and are often the result of third party accidents, vehicle accidents, or illegal activity such as meth labs or illegal dumping.

But in spite of our best intentions, serious chemical accidents can happen at any time. A train could derail or a tanker truck could jackknife and release toxic substances. As disaster planners, we are also concerned about chemical releases that might occur as a result of other hazards such as fires or earthquakes.

Our community is fortunate to have a well-trained and equipped hazardous materials team at the Vancouver Fire Department. This team serves the whole region and can get help from similar teams in Portland, Gresham, and elsewhere if needed. They regularly train and exercise with chemical companies to ensure they are prepared to work together to respond quickly.

Another community resource that supports chemical risk reduction is the Clark County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Our LEPC meets monthly and provides a forum for industry, public safety, the health and medical community, and other local agencies to work together to address chemical hazards and emergency response. We meet at 2 PM on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Northwest Regional Training Center. Our meetings are open to the public. In the past we have conducted public education, exercises, technical studies, and planning. At our upcoming meeting on March 26, we’ll be working on the Clark County Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Plan. Anyone interested in participating in this effort is welcome to join us. For more information about the Clark County LEPC or the Hazmat Plan please contact John Wheeler at (360) 992-6271 or at

For more information see:

Washington State Department of Ecology

Washington State Emergency Management Division

Hazardous Materials – Emergency Preparedness and Planning (Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington)

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