HOW SAFE IS IT TO LIVE OR WORK NEAR A VULCAN OPERATION?

Sometimes profit seems to be placed above the law and morality. There are other cases of environmental damage in which Vulcan has been involved in other parts of the United States.

You can read something about the record on safety in Vulcan operations, then make up your own mind. A company they own, Vulcan Chemicals, had sales of $642 million in 2001, and operated 29 chemical distribution terminals including 10 that stored HCL (Hydrochloric Acid) within the United States. Vulcan Chemicals produces and transports chlorine, caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, potassium chemicals, and chlorinated organic chemicals.

In a description of one incident at a Vulcan plant in Denver, Colorado, we have an example:

In the mid-1990s, Vulcan regularly stored more than 36,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in railroad tanker cars at a rail terminal in northern Swansea (a suburb of Denver). The terminal was just eight feet from a barbed wire fence that separated the tankers from a playground and the Swansea Community Center. HCL is a corrosive, hazardous material with potentially acute health effects if released. The facility maintained no release-detection systems at its terminal, and emergency response equipment was limited.

On March 29, 1995, at approximately 2:40 p.m., the sole employee stationed at the terminal discovered that muriatic acid (35% of which was hydrochloric acid) had eaten a hole in the bottom of one of the tank cars parked at the terminal. As 3,300 gallons of the substance wafted out of the tanker toward neighboring homes, the employee notified the local fire department. The National Response Center (the US government agency contact for reporting oil and chemical spills ) was not notified until later that evening.

Residents only slowly became aware of the significance of the incident. Some who understood the dangers involved rushed to evacuate family members and elderly residents, but they were stopped by local police, who blocked access to the neighborhood. The fire department did eventually evacuate the area, but more slowly than many people thought reasonable, in part because the crews sent to work on the problem could not speak Spanish.

Only because of extremely good luck, this poisonous cloud of toxic gas, that could have proven fatal if it was inhaled, moved to the east away from populated areas. Many people could have died if not for the fortunate weather conditions. At community meetings later, other issues came to the surface, including the lack of safeguards to both prevent and respond to accidental releases or spills and the failure of companies such as Vulcan to disclose and communicate the risks posed by their handling of hazardous materials,

Initially, the Vulcan and the companies it worked with (who were responsible for the incident) were unresponsive to residents concerns. Nothing happened until a lawsuit was filed, with potential penalties to Vulcan of up to $9.9 million dollars, Only then did those responsible for the incident began to respond. The policies of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called for the highest level of penalty at $25,000 per day) for the offenses of which Vulcan was accused.

In the mediation (which was an attempt to resolve the lawsuit through negotiation), Vulcan was represented by the manager of public affairs and the director of logistics of its Chemicals Group, as well as two attorneys. The employee who was on site the day of the accident took part in the first meeting. At the outset, Vulcan was primarily interested in protecting its reputation, protecting shareholder value (and not setting a bad precedent) by limiting the settlement amount, and apologizing to community members.

After an initial offer Vulcan made to the plaintiffs ($10,000) was resoundingly rejected, the parties began to draft principles of settlement. The final agreement included a public apology by Vulcan, informing other communities and improving processes to preventive future environmental contamination, improving emergency preparedness, payments to the citizens to purchase land for a public park separating their homes from industrial areas, paying the residents legal fees, and other undisclosed payments. It took nearly 10 years for justice to be done, and for the citizens and their government agencies to force Vulcan into accepting responsibility for correcting the damage.

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