March 21, 2003

Anticipated closing of the General Chemical plant in Claymont could cost several workers at the neighboring Honeywell International plant their jobs and the company its customers.

Plant manager Ken Kelleher told the Claymont Community Coalition at its Mar. 20 meeting that his company "will experience a business disruption" if General Chemical shuts down at the end of September as it has previously announced. That, he said, will cut off its source of fluorosuphonic acid, a sulfur-based chemical which is a key raw material for making a chemical that Honeywell sells to oil refineries.

He said Honeywell has decided to build a unit to make the acid but that will not go on stream until April, 2004. Meanwhile, he said, "we're trying to bridge the gap." No other company in the United States makes the refinery chemical, but Honeywell's customers are likely to turn to European suppliers. The chemical accounts for about half of the local plant's production.

Honeywell is a corporate brother of General Chemical. It is the former specialty chemical division of Allied Chemical, the company which spun off General Chemical in 1987. The plant, which straddles the Delaware-Pennsylvania border, employs 83 workers. Kelleher did not say how many would be affected.

Don Zoladkiewicz, manager of the Sunoco refinery, which sells acid gas to General Chemical and is faced with the problem of what to do with that material, other than burn it off through its safety flare, between the time General Chemical shuts down and a new sulfur-recovery unit is ready, said Sunoco is talking with General Chemical as part of an "intensive effort" to come up with an interim solution.

He gave no details about what is being discussed, but indicated that a long-term contractual commitment may be brought in to play. "Two years of flaring is not an option," he said.

General Chemical's plant manager Tom Testa, said that a company analysis concluded it is "not financially justified for us to rebuild the facility." Last summer, he and other General Chemical officials said that a major overhaul, involving substantial new investment in the Claymont plant was under consideration but dependent upon being about to obtain financing. Since then, both General Chemical and its parent, Gentek, have declared bankruptcy with an intent to reorganize.

He said that the company will continue to operate the portion of its plant which is in Pennsylvania, but that it will stop making sulfuric acid on the Delaware side of the plant. About 250 workers will lose their jobs.

There are no environmental problems associated with the closure, he said.

In an unrelated matter affecting the Claymont industrial complex, it was confirmed at the coalition meeting that two men were detained by Marcus Hook, Pa., police the night of Mar. 18 after an officer observed them driving slowly and allegedly acting suspiciously in the vicinity of the Sunoco refinery. Police reportedly found a chemistry book in the car.

One of the men, a foreign national, was turned over to the custody of the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service. The other, a U.S. citizen of Middle Eastern extraction, has been released.

Delaware State Police have begun a 'homeland security initiative', Patrick Ogden, criminal lieutenant at the Penny Hill troop, told the coalition. Officers, he said, have been especially detailed "to keep an eye on high-risk places."

In the matter of conventional law enforcement, he reported that 28 arrests were made during the first two weeks of the 'Claymont initiative'. Five of those resulted in felony charges and 11 were drug-related. Twenty-one adults and one juvenile for whom there were outstanding warrants were picked up. There were 34 arrests for traffic violations.

As first reported by Delaforum, that initiative involves assigning additional patrols to the Claymont area. Ogden said it is being continued indefinitely.

2003. All rights reserved.

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