ASG Charged with violations of EPA regulations

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DAYTON - Central Lyon County's fire chief is recommending the permit for a Dayton chemical plant be revoked, calling it an "unacceptable threat" after state inspectors accused the firm of violations in a report on a July 30 explosion.

Chief Bill Driscoll said Wednesday he will go before the Lyon County Planning Commission next week and recommend revocation of the company's special use permit.

Advanced Specialty Gases has been charged with violating several hazardous waste codes and regulations.

"In my opinion, this facility exposes our community to an unacceptable threat and should not be allowed to continue to operate," Driscoll said.

As a result of its investigation into a July 30 explosion at Advanced Specialty Gases, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection says it discovered a number of unexpected toxic-waste management violations at the nitrogen tri-fluoride producing plant.

According to the notice of alleged violation, ASG:

- Failed to report an August 1998 incident involving a spill of hydrogen fluoride and has taken no action to prevent a reoccurrence.

- Falsified the extent of damage incurred in a March 17, 2000, incident involving nitrogen tri-fluoride and attempted to prevent NDEP's inspection and evaluation of the incident.

- Failed to review an investigative report with employees as required by state statute.

The report suggests these past problems may have led to the July 30 explosion.

Central Lyon County Fire District Operations and Training Officer Mark Darragh agreed.

"Yes, some of the alleged incidents could have quite possibly been an indication of events to come (the July 30 explosion)," Darragh said.

Darragh said his department has been involved in the investigation only to the extent previous incidents may have contributed to the July 30 event, "Since an explosion is essentially a fire, we have the obligation to pursue as to the cause and origin."

Company President Michael Koonce expressed surprise upon hearing of the charges and emphasized the alleged violations had no bearing on the investigation into the July 30 event.

"We do not accept their findings. We want to see the evidence and will go through the appeal process," Koonce said Wednesday. "NDEP has held two or three audits at the plant and never once alerted us that these items were an issue."

Koonce has denied past rumors of a second explosion, saying they are "untrue and unfounded."

According to Mark Zusy, supervisor of the state's Chemical Accident Prevention Branch, the new information was a result of interviews with ASG employees.

Both Zusy and Darragh stated they had no indications prior to the investigation into the July 30 blast of any other problems at the plant.

An appeal of the allegations would be held in front of an officer appointed by the state. The company can pursue further appeals through the courts if not satisfied with the decision.

Coincidental to the current allegations, ASG's special use permit is scheduled for its annual review by the Lyon County Planning Commission on Dec. 12.

"We must be assured the plant can operate without being a threat to the public," Driscoll said. "I don't want district staff and the volunteer firefighters to be exposed to the threat ASG has the potential of posing. My concern is they (ASG) demonstrate an uncompromised ability to operate without being a threat to the employees and the public."

Zusy said his department will be represented at the special use permit review hearing but would not comment on what role it would be playing.

ASG has not been in production since the July 30 explosion and must have approval of county and state officials before it can resume operations. An investigation into the incident by an independent engineering firm, Exponent, has been completed and is under review by an EPA investigator.

The explosion released approximately 100 cubic feet of nitrogen tri-fluoride gas, destroying roof sections above the purification room, and blew out a door and wall of the room. A brush fire spread to nearby property.

In an industrial park about one-half mile east of a large residential area east of Dayton, ASG is one of five manufacturers of nitrogen-trifluoride in the world. The product is used as a cleaning and etching agent.

The use of hydrogen fluoride at the plant has been the major source of ongoing concern, with detractors stating the presence of the chemical in such an area is too much of a risk to themselves and the children at a nearby elementary school.

Hydrogen fluoride can cause severe respiratory problems if not handled properly.

Area emergency responders, including the Quad County Haz Mat team, have an agreement with the company that they will not enter the site until assured the air has been cleared and hazardous materials secured.


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