Future in Jeopardy? McIntosh residents in fear after Olin chlori - FOX10 News | WALA

Future in Jeopardy? McIntosh residents in fear after Olin chlorine gas leak

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FOX10 News Investigative Reporter Kati Weis speaks to concerned McIntosh residents after chlorine leak. Photo Credit: Daeshen Smith FOX10 News Investigative Reporter Kati Weis speaks to concerned McIntosh residents after chlorine leak. Photo Credit: Daeshen Smith

The first time FOX10 News Investigates went to McIntosh to start investigating a February 15 chlorine gas leak at the Olin Corporation chemical plant, dozens of community members were waiting for us at the McIntosh Town Hall to tell us about their concerns, hoping we could find some answers about what happened.


Once FOX10 News Investigates started digging, the company started opening up about how they will make amends, inviting members of the community to come to a meeting with plant officials at the Olin facility last week.


"I think the meeting came forth, as an effort of the news media being involved, specifically Channel 10 News, because y'all have done wonderful in reference to investigating, and coming out and interviewing the community,” said Lucille Kimble-Foster, who lives in the neighborhood across the street from Olin.


Kimble-Foster isn’t so convinced that Olin will make improvements.


"We went into ways that they could assist the community, in reference to protecting the residents, but we didn't get an actual answer as to if they were going to do it, or not,” she said.


One of those ways, Kimble-Foster said, would be to create an app for residents to download on their smart phones. The app would alert them if another leak was happening, and would give instructions on what to do.


FOX10 News Investigates asked Olin about that app concept said to have been discussed in the meeting, but we have not received a specific response about it.


Instead, in a written statement, Olin said, “When we met with the community members, they suggested we consider some alternative notification methods. We are doing additional benchmarking in this area and are always open to ways to improve.”

Olin’s track record in McIntosh


FOX10 News Investigates found the Olin facility in McIntosh has a track record.


In 2014, the EPA’s website shows it fined the facility $1,200 for failing to “provide evidence that operating procedures were current and accurate and that procedures have been reviewed as often as necessary.”


In 2015, court records show an employee sued the company for being wrongfully exposed to chlorine gas. He ultimately got a settlement of $75,000.


Someone close to Olin said that suit was a “workers compensation claim, following an employee termination due to a safety procedure violation.”


Last summer, OSHA fined the facility $9,900 for exposing contractors to a "five pound chlorine gas cloud release."


The OSHA report says when the chlorine leaked, Olin "did not activate the alarm system in place that provided warning necessary for reaction time for safe escape."


In total, state and federal records show there have been at least nine chlorine gas leaks at the plant since 2010, and the February 15 leak was the largest.


Brown trees and ADEM’s response


Even though it’s been more than a month, McIntosh residents say they can still see the physical effects of the gas leak.


In the area off River Road that plant officials indicated the chlorine gas had traveled, there are hundreds of brown pine trees. Yet, in other locations around the facility, all of the pine trees are green.


McIntosh Police Chief Mike Ready said that effect worries him.


"It's a concern to us, after seeing what it has done to the environment, what could it be doing to... anybody's lungs close by?" said Ready.


But the public agency investigating the incident, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), doesn't appear to be concerned.


ADEM documents show an inspector conducted a two hour "drive by" of the area, and "did not see any damage to trees between the plant property and the river."


That report, posted online, was accompanied by photos in black and white.


"I was appalled at the fact that they said nothing was wrong with the trees, they didn't see any problems with the trees, the trees wasn't affected, but it's clearly still there. Even a month later,” said Kimble-Foster.


Neighbors fear the combination of Olin's past and a lack of strict enforcement from ADEM will end up subjecting them to more hazards in the future.


"They should do a more in-depth investigation, because if you just look over it, and give Olin a pat on the hand, it's going to leave for Olin to say hey, we can do this again, we don't have to make changes, changes to our protocol, we don't have to make changes to our emergency response plans, or anything of that nature, so I do think it needs to be investigated further by ADEM,” Kimble-Foster said.


FOX10 News Investigates asked ADEM for a comment about the "drive by" inspection.


ADEM sent a written statement writing, “since February 15, 2017, the date of the release, ADEM continues to review all information associated with the release to determine an appropriate course of action."


FOX10 News Investigates has also requested an interview with Olin officials several times, but still have not been granted that opportunity


Instead, Olin has released a written statement that reads, “Olin is strongly committed to excellence in protecting the health and safety of our employees and those who live and work around our plants.  We conduct all of our operations in compliance with all applicable laws, and in many cases, we go above and beyond what is required. If an incident occurs, we work with the appropriate regulatory authority.”

In another written statement, Olin also said, "we are sorry for the concerns this incident has caused.”


However, some community members said they're not satisfied with that written apology, and instead want to see a public apology on camera from the facility.


FOX10 News Investigates will let you know if and when Olin accepts our request for an interview.

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