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Palo Alto orders analysis of CPI's toxic risk

Original post made on Apr 23, 2012

Faced with protests from Barron Park residents over toxic materials at a nearby plating shop, Palo Alto officials on Monday commissioned new studies to determine the risk level and consider possible options for managing the risk.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, April 23, 2012, 11:11 PM

Comments (19)

Posted by PatrickD, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2012 at 11:28 pm

My house was built in 1949 and is two blocks away. I think it's safe to say it was here first. CPI should never have been able to build the plating shop so close, and the city council should do something to rectify the situation.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:00 am

CPI claiming to have occupied the site since 1953 is bit like Zsa Zsa Gabor celebrating her years of marriage. (Zsa Zsa Gabor was married 9 times, divorced 7 times and had one marriage annulled because she was likely married to two men at the same time.) CPI itself didn't exist until 1995 when Varian sold the Electron Device Business to a hedge fund. Another hedge fund bought that company and took CPI public in 2006. In 2011, still another hedge fund took the company private again.

Mr. Pickett is being somewhat generous in his characterization of the safety of the CPI plating facility. Most recently, on Sunday March 14, 2010 a hydrogen tank vented at the site. During the event, PAFD discovered that some of CPI's tanks were mislabeled. When PAFD ordered the site evacuated and set up a 200 foot safety zone, one worker wasn't located for nearly 20 minutes because he had ensconced himself in a company restroom.

Posted by Barron-Park-Politics-As-Usual, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2012 at 8:45 am


How many people have been killed, or even injured, at the Varian/CPI manufacturing site/activity since it was founded? Zero people have been killed.

How many people have been killed at the Palo Alto Airport during the same period of time? About 165!

So--which operation is more dangerous to human life?

Wonder why the City Council is concerned about "chemicals" at the current CPI site, but totally disinterested about the safety of people living under the flight paths of the Palo Alto Airport?

And what about all of the chemicals and radioactive materials on the Stanford campus? Shouldn't the Council be concerned about that too?

Another example of too many people with too much time on their hands.

Posted by Don, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 10:31 am

I grew up in the Barron Park area during the late 60's early 70's.

I attended Barron Park Elementary K - 2 then was transferred to Loma Vista for 3 - 6. Many, many days were filled playing in the Barron Park creek wich travels behind the CPI facility and near these houses.

Let's cut to the chase here; at least 90% of the people living in these homes near CPI did not buy them in 1949 or even 1959 or even 1969. They bought them maybe ten or fifteen years ago if even that. Now because of the depressed housing market they are trying to bring their home values up however they can even at the expense and well being of 550 employees.

This is obviously a case where people did not do enough research prior to purchasing their homes. They saw big dollar signs on their real estate investment in desirable Palo Alto back in 2005 when they paid at least 100,000 dollars per house over market value. Can you say not smart?

The businesses along that strech of Palo Alto have been there many years and have never been so well regulated as they are now. I don't see why CPI should be ostricized by a bunch of witch hunters.

Palo Alto was a great place to grow up and I have absolutely no reservations about owning a home next to CPI, if I could afford one. The same people that are complaining about CPI and weren't smart enough to figure out what that big building over there was when they bought the house are now the people that form this community.

Thank GOD I don't live in a community like that any more. This explains a lot of the other idiotic moves the city has made over the years like cutting down trees on California Avenue, not allowing paid admission into Foothills Park by non-residents and allowing an icon like the bowling alley to be buldozed. The fields behind Gunn High School have now been completely taken over and are locked so no more Sunday pick up softball games. There is going to be a lot of crime and trouble as kids grow up and have nothing constructive to do in this town. Barron Park residents the value in your home is going to degrade in time. Sell now you don't have long to recover your overinvestments. This town has cancer and it is not caused by CPI. It is caused by selfish money grubbing people; the peole now making up this community. Sad, very sad.

Posted by lark, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2012 at 11:56 am

To Mr Patrick D
Your house may have been built in 1949, however, in what year did YOU purchase it? I'm sure CPI had been in business at their location for some time at thst point.You should have made a better assessment of the neighborhood before you moved into it. I'm very much in agreement with Don.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

One thing missing from the story is that in assessing risks and finding them to be small, the consultant assumed that the safety systems would we fully operational. However, the 2006 nitric acid gas release was the result of the primary safety system (scrubbers) and the backup (surrounding room as containment vessel) were not just simultaneous deactivated, but were left deactivated even though it wasn't necessary at that time. Furthermore, the operators of equipment were not aware that the safety systems were off-line and made a serious mistake.

Furthermore, CPI stated that in the 2006 release only the odor of the gas reached residents, when in fact a healthy adult became very faint. When a company persistently ignores observable facts in favor of models that may not be realistic and that can be manipulated to obtained the desired results, it pays to be skeptical.

In the years of trying to work with CPI on this issue, I have repeatedly encountered indications that they have a poor safety culture.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Correction of Bob (The second comment in this thread):

The hydrogen gas venting of March 2010 was not at CPI, but at Varian.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Meta observation: If you want to understand a significant factor in why City Council has problems making good decisions, this hearing provides an excellent example. CPI's consultant was allowed to effectively filibuster the hearing, abetted by Council members who kept asking him questions long after it became clear that he could/would not provide appropriate answers. Although a few Council members followed up by asking him to try to answer the question he was asked, and to be more concise, the consultant was allowed to ramble on and on and on.

One neighbor new to this process commented that it seemed that Council was more interested in asking questions than getting answers (although nowhere near as bad as you see in Congressional hearings). I disagree and attribute the problem to excessive politeness.

Posted by the money tree, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I was interested in resident Samir Tuma mentioning that he personally was ok with the 14 year amortization even though his neighbors do not agree.
Seems Mr Tuma is keeping his connections to big money in good order. After all, he's a Planning Commissioner. Wouldn't want to upset the money-tree while he's climbing on it.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm

> Furthermore, CPI stated that in the 2006 release only the
> odor of the gas reached residents, when in fact a healthy
> adult became very faint.

Do "healthy adults" have names? Did this "healthy adult" call 911, so that there is some sort of verifiable record of his/her "faintness". And just how long did this "disability" last?

People can become faint from vigorous exercise, such as running on a warm day. People who are allergic to peanuts can go into shock from eating peanut butter. Are we going to ban running and peanut butter from our community too?

Facts are things that can be verified. There isn't much that comes close to a fact being presented here.

> When a company persistently ignores observable facts in
> favor of models that may not be realistic and that can be
> manipulated to obtained the desired results, it pays to
> be skeptical.

When people make claims, but provide not a shred of evidence—it does pay to be skeptical—particularly if they are from Palo Alto.

Posted by Lord of Barron PArk, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 4:40 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Jack G., a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm

As a resident of Palo Alto for the past 42 years, with my backyard fence bordering Matadero Creek and an employee of Eimac / Varian / CPI (same company - same products) for the past 52 years, it is difficult to understand the thought processes of a few Barron Park residents versus the 650 employees (currently) who have been safely working in close proximity to the "plating operation" with no documented injuries to human life... The safety of everyone should remain the #1 priority - and as was pointed out at last night's Council Meeting, CPI's levels of safety are within the state mandated requirements - as established by "Title 19"... It will be interesting to discover what, yet another, "commissioned new study" will determine.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

"Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood" and "Lord of Barron PArk" are examples of the malicious cowards who use anonymity as a shield while they spout absurd falsehoods.

1. "Joe": "not a shred of evidence". The name and account of this person was in the initial news story of this incident (Web Link) which is trivially found by a search on this site -- it came up as the third entry when is entered "nitric acid leak". And this aspect has been cited repeatedly in public hearings over the intervening years.

2. "Lord of Barron Park": I am not even one of the leaders of this effort, as is abundantly clear if one reads the articles. I got sucked into it as a participant because I attended the early meetings in my role as BPA President and was deeply offended by CPI's dismissive attitudes to the facts, to safety practices and to the residents.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Jack G:
One of the reasons that the residents have a different view of the safety issue than the employees is that while CPI will give its employees timely alerting and instructions in the event of a release, it refuses to do the same for residents who are as vulnerable or more to that release.

Despite the neighborhood's repeated attempts to work with CPI to provide useful alerts, CPI has adamantly and persistently insisted that they will do no more than the minimum required by regulations, even though that notification process has multiple steps that each introduce delays and confusions. It doesn't seem to matter to CPI that people could die because of these unnecessary delays.

Posted by Lord of Barron Park, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 25, 2012 at 11:26 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2012 at 8:44 pm

So CPI won't do anything beyond what is legally required in regards to safety. The corporate reality is this: any executive who spends money to exceed the legal requirements on safety risks being fired by the board of directors. Any director who supports such expenditures risks being voted out by stockholders or being sued for breach of responsibility. Share holder return and value come first, and safety of neighbors doesn't count at all in this game. If you don't like that, don't blame CPI.

Posted by lord of barron park, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2012 at 11:41 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Donald
The cynicism of a corporation doing more than the minimum required misses a large part of the calculus.

1. The additional notification appeared to be very inexpensive -- it could simply use the existing public system (AlertSCC, formerly CANS). The changes to CPI's procedures for alerting seemed minor, since it used much the same info as they needed to protect their own employees. CPI never made any argument that this was either difficult or expensive, but simply took the position that they wouldn't do it.

2. If you look at the costs of the meetings - attendance, prep -- and consultant reports, it would seem that these costs alone would have swamped the costs of doing better notification.

3. CPI is owned by a private equity company whose goal is to sell such companies. The controversy has highlighted risks and introduced uncertainties that typically hurt a company's valuation. Furthermore, this documented history provides a basis for larger penalties and punitive damages in the event of a damaging release.

The unknown portion of this calculus is what CPI sees as its legal exposure from doing an enhanced notification.

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Mtn. View had a similar problem with the " Rust Bucket " ( Fairchild Semiconductor Wafer Fab plant ) near our house. Your City council might want to talk to the " city fathers " of Mtn. View to get the proper steps on how to deal with this contamination.

You also might want an EPA evaluation, but ( Horrors! ) Palo Alto might have a SUPERFUND site that will make homes in the area quite affordable [/sarcasm]..

Plating generates plenty of toxic byproducts and the City ( and residents ) legally have access to the MSDS sheets that this plating company has on file.

As a manager, OSHA teaches you about these things and discusses compliance and penalties if you ( or your company ) doesn't comply.

( I was a manager when Cray Research open it's private WAFER FAB area and WE didn't contaminate the Chippewa Falls water supply! )

For examples of steps to be taken, you need to look no farther than what happened to the ROMIC plant in east Palo Alto...

It seems some " good neighbors " were not so " good neighbors ", which is why OSHA and the EPA have had to step in...

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