Industrial plants focus efforts on worker, community safety

Posted: Saturday, March 04, 2000

From canneries to a refinery, liquefied natural gas plant and an agricultural products manufacturer, the Kenai Peninsula is home to a variety of industries.

With those industries come some risks.

Any business using large amounts of any chemical assumes the possibility of something going wrong.

Accidents do happen, as proven by the Aug. 20, 1999, explosion at the Alaska Nitrogen Products plant in Nikiski and the July 2, 1998, Icicle Seafoods cannery fire on the Homer Spit.

The greatest risk in the Nikiski industrial area is the potential venting of hazardous fumes or chemicals, said John Alcantra, coordinator of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Office of Emergency Manage-ment.

In the southern part of the peninsula, flammable liquids such as gasoline, diesel and other fuels pose the greatest risk, said Homer Fire Chief Robert Purcell. In terms of volume, the next most significant danger is anhydrous ammonia, used for refrigeration in fishing vessels and canneries.


A fishing boat pulls oil containment boom during a drill in Cook Inlet.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Rick Warren, Alaska Nitrogen Products' emergency response coordinator, said, of the chemicals used at the three major Nikiski plants, fuel or ammonia are the most likely to cause problems.

Warren said Alaska Nitrogen uses anhydrous ammonia, which vaporizes very quickly and is harmful when inhaled.

Steve Hoogland, the manager of safety and education at Tesoro Alaska Petroleum Co., said the Nikiski refinery works very hard to ensure worker and community safety.

"Prevention has always got to be the focus," Hoogland said.

Warren said Alaska Nitrogen consistently trains in how to avoid and quickly contain any sort of leak.

Michael Nelson, the safety, health and environmental representative at Phillips Petroleum Co., said the liquefied natural gas plant uses safe work practices and experienced employees to manage the combustible gases at the plant.

"I think we do a good job of managing the risk," he said.

Employees handling hazardous materials are extensively trained in safe handling and accident prevention, said Hoogland, Warren and Nelson.

Industrial plants using hazardous materials are federally required to determine and prepare for the worst possible accident so they will be ready for everything.

Representatives from the three major plants in Nikiski all said they have gone through this thorough training. However, they also said the odds of any "worst case senario" happening are unlikely in the extreme.

"Everyone out here contributes to the safe work environment," Nelson said.

Warren said employees would not work in the plants if they felt they were at risk.

"In this industry, we all have a great level of trust in the integrity of the facilities," he said. "We feel they are more secure the older they get because we're better at maintaining the integrity of the facility."

Both Hoogland and Warren said unless homes are directly threatened the safest place to be in a chemical disaster is inside.

Alcantra said major peninsula industries are well aware how to use and access the Community Alert Network. Should anything happen, Alcantra said, CAN will be used to inform and instruct residents as necessary.

According to Alcantra and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in case of chemical or industrial accident, people should be prepared to shelter in place. (See related story

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