Deja vu in Lyon County.

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We couldn't help a sense of deja vu when we saw Lyon County had approved a tantalum powder production plant last week.

Pacific Ores Metals & Chemicals/Niotan Inc. will build the plant in an existing 84,000-square-foot building on 10 acres in Comstock Industrial Park.

Company representatives and county officials were reassuring in their comments that safety precautions will be in place, code requirements will be met, workers will be adequately trained and the company will have its own hazardous materials team to respond to any potential disaster.

The process of making tantalum powder, used in the electronics industry for capacitors, is potentially explosive.

Where have we heard this before?

Oh, yes. Advanced Specialty Gases, which came along in 1997 near Dayton.

It was pronounced, at the time, to be "about as safe as it can be," according to the fire chief at the time.

Residents, however, were concerned -- just as they are concerned now about a tantalum powder plant. "Everyone involved has good intentions," said a neighbor of the new tantalum plant, Rick Northcutt, "but accidents can happen."

In the case of ASG, an accident did happen. It was a serious accident, three years after the plant opened. Although no one was injured, it scared the bejeebers out of many Dayton-area residents.

The new fire chief pronounced the products being made at ASG "nasty stuff" and said the plant should be moved. Lyon County commissioners agreed ASG wasn't the kind of business they wanted any more, and in October last year revoked its permit.

The lesson here? Words mean nothing.

Although everybody can say a plant using potentially unstable gases or chemicals is as safe as a church nursery, there's no guarantee.

And if there should be an accident, then county officials' words supporting the business will be lost in the wind.

As for nearby residents, apparently there is only one thing you can do: Cross your fingers.


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