News

May 13, 2002

Several emissions incidents which have sent clouds of potentially dangerous chemicals into the air over the area have prompted community leaders and others in Claymont to call for a more effective warning system to alert residents.

"We don't know what's happening unless they tell us," said George Lossť, president of the Claymont Coalition. "And when they do it still takes several hours before the word gets around. By then it could be too late."

He and his organization are advocating installation and use of a siren which emits a sound distinctively different from that used by the volunteer fire company. Its sounding would be a signal for residents to turn on their radio to get the necessary information.

"It's important for them to know to go inside and close the windows, especially if they have asthma or emphysema," he said.

It might be possible to enlist local commercial radio stations to provide the warnings but Lossť said it would be more effective -- and official -- if Delaware Department of Transportation's highway information frequency could be used to provide the service.

"It would take some educating the people because there are not many who even know about [the DelDOT station], but with all that has been happening lately there's certainly enough interest that it wouldn't take very  long," he said. The DelDOT station is at 1380 k.h.z. on the a.m. band.

As things stand now, he said, he is called at home by telephone about a release, accident or other emergency by the company involved and relays the information by telephone to leaders of civic associations which belong to the coalition. It is up to them to further spread the word.

"That's not exactly what I'd call an efficient system," he said.

Moreover, he added, what efficiency it has depends on whether he is called and how soon in the course of the incident. Doing so is part of corporate community relations policy.

On May 9, when the Sun Co. refinery was forced to burn off acid gas, a process which releases sulfur dioxide into the air, Nora Lossť, George's wife, was first alerted to the situation by having heard about it while monitoring the Claymont Fire Company radio. George Lossť said that source of information will no longer be available to the public when the fire company switches to use of the state's emergency radio system. State and county police already have made the change.

Nora Lossť said that the state system could be indirectly helpful if the tower to be erected for it within the planned new Woodshaven-Kruse county park were made available as a location of the requested siren.

Use of the Sun flare to burn the gas has been at the nub of the area's air pollution problem in recent weeks. Sun normally sells the gas, a byproduct of its oil refining operation, to the adjacent General Chemical Corp. plant which uses it to make sulfuric acid. The most recent incident -- the third within a week -- was May 13, when lightning struck the General Chemical facility.

General Chemical is located in Delaware; the Sun refinery straddles the Delaware-Pennsylvania line.

"Years ago [the acid gas] was a waste product which they just let go into the air," George Lossť said. "In those days we didn't know anything about it or what it could do to us."

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