Barron Park hazardous-materials firm to meet with neighbors | March 21, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 21, 2007

Barron Park hazardous-materials firm to meet with neighbors

Also, county decides to audit Communications & Power Industries' risk-management plan

by Sue Dremann

A hazardous-materials company that accidentally released a cloud of chemicals over the Barron Park neighborhood last year is continuing to undergo scrutiny, both from residents and from the County of Santa Clara.

The county's Hazardous Materials Compliance Division has decided to audit Communications & Power Industries' emergency plans, spokesperson Nicole Pullman said.

The decision comes just two months after the firm reached a settlement with the City of Palo Alto over the Feb. 2, 2006, accident, which spread a plume of the nitric acid over the neighborhood.

Separate from the county's audit, Barron Park residents and Communications & Power Industries (CPI) officials will hold a community meeting to address neighbors' concerns on Thursday. The city's settlement with CPI left many issues regarding public safety unresolved, some residents have said, and they welcomed the county audit in addition to the meeting.

"The audit is a good thing. It will require an in-depth review," said Art Liberman, a Barron Park resident who has researched the accident and is a vocal critic of the city's settlement with CPI.

"It's not a settlement that gives us a sense of security or notification for the next accident. The city didn't resolve a number of questions. . . . There is still no way to notify people. How do these people train? There (is no provision for) sensors or monitors.

"The monitors last time were the noses of the people who were working outside and who worked outside the plant," he said.

Under state law, companies producing or storing quantities of hazardous materials in excess of state limits must file a risk-management plan with the county and state, which addresses two hypothetical scenarios in the event of a worst-case accident. CPI modified its risk-management plan in June, according to CPI's Director of Investor Relations Amanda Mogin.

Audits of risk-management plans can take place at any time and are often random. CPI had audits in 2002 and 2004, according to Pullman. The decision to audit CPI at this time comes in part because of the accident last year and the close proximity to residences, she said.

The current audit will be more extensive than previous ones. The county is asking for part of the risk-management plan to be reworked. A third-party consultant will review the adequacy of the worst-case scenario plans, inspect how the firm processes hazardous materials, look at possible human errors and review the company's safeguards against accidents, Pullman said.

"(CPI's) facility has fairly close neighbors in a fairly dense residential area. We wanted to make sure the (risk-management plan) is adequate," she said.

City Fire Marshal Dan Firth confirmed the company had no releases prior to Feb. 2, 2006, but said CPI failed to notify the fire department or the city regarding the release.

Liberman said under the city's settlement, no additional provision requires CPI to notify authorities or neighbors in the event of another accident. However, Firth said none was needed because California Health and Safety Code 6.95 and Chapter 16 of the Municipal Code already require CPI to notify authorities when accidents occur.

The fire department is working with CPI and the county to determine ways to reduce the hazardous potential to the community, Firth said. Palo Alto Fire and CPI are also working to identify potential technologies for early detection of hazardous releases and a possible residential notification system in the event of a release, he added.

"The company has made facility enhancements and has been very proactive. It's a compliant company -- a good corporate citizen. They respond well when any violations are observed during inspections," he said.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss said the county is making every effort to involve the community in the auditing process.

"There has been a lot of concern. I hope the process will allow them to establish good relationships once again," she said. "I hope CPI makes every effort to be the good neighbor they have been in the past."

Liberman expects the March 22 meeting, which takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. at Barron Park Elementary School, will be a frank exchange between Barron Park residents and CPI officials.

For CPI, the meeting will be an important step in communication with the community, Mogin said. "I hope it fosters continued communication."

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at


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