The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

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August 22, 2013

Providing awareness for potential local emergencies

On Dec. 2, 1984, Methyl Isocyanate was accidentally leaked from a Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, silently killing more than 8,000 people in the matter of weeks.

In response to that, the Reagan administration passed into law the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986.

The act was passed to help local governing authorities, industries and residents cooperate in emergency planning and to provide the public with information on chemicals that may be stored in cities and counties.

One of the by-products of the act was the birth of the Local Emergency Preparedness Committee (LEPC), which facilitates the act on a local level.

Richard Hill, Hunt County Director of Homeland Security, is a part of the LEPC, which meets on a quarterly basis to inform the public on chemicals stored and also to plan for any emergency the county may face.

“Our mission is to carry out the responsibilities of the ESPCRA,” he said.

The LEPC has to submit a plan to the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) for potential emergencies that may arise in the county. The plan comes up for revision by TDEM every five years to

“We have remained at the “Advanced” for our plan for the past five years in a row,” David Jones with the Hunt County Homeland Security said, adding that an “Advanced” rating is the highest rating they can receive.

Hill said they are able to stay at the highest rating because they meet regularly to revise the plan to ensure it is the best for any new situation.

“Our job is one of the things we hope we never have to use that we plan and prepare for,” he said. “You can never prepare enough.”

Hill said an important part of the LEPC is that it is made up and run mainly by the local industries and residents of Hunt County, including Terry O’brien, safety, health and environmental regional manager at Cytec Engineered Materials, Inc. who sits as the chairperson of the LEPC.

“Terry O’brien is a wealth of information,”  he said. “It operates autonomously from the government and provides public access to information on hazardous chemicals in Hunt County.”

From a tabletop drill in May with Texas A&M University-Commerce on what would happen if a tornado knocked over Whitley Hall to a drill with the Hunt Regional Medical Center and Greenville Fire Department on an mock emergency situation at the Greenville YMCA, the LEPC takes part in nearly every drill in the county.

“Environment enforcement, hazardous materials and emergency preparedness go hand-in-hand with the LEPC,” Hill said. “We promote cooperation between industries, citizens and governments on emergencies.”

Jones said residents who want to can file for information on any chemical an industry is holding that has been deemed dangerous by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“They need to submit them in writing or at LEPC meetings or ask that to any individual company,” he said, adding that companies are not required to respond to phone requests. “Trade secret chemicals are exempt from inquiry.”

The LEPC cannot place any restrictions on hazardous chemicals, though, a question that has been raised since the West, Texas plant explosion where 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 15 and injuring more than 160 people.

Hill said he expects some changes will be made to the law because of the explosion.

The LEPC meets on a quarterly basis, usually in the sixth floor board room at that Hunt Regional Medical Center.

Hill said every meeting is open to the public and encourages them to attend.

The LEPC is working on a website being built by Jones and Commerce Firefighter Josh Cato to help make residents aware of emergency preparedness involving chemicals.

While the website is in development, information on the LEPC can be gathered at the Hunt County Homeland Security Facebook page and at www.huntcounty.net.

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