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PA may take CPI to Court

Original post made by safetyspeeking, Barron Park, on Oct 26, 2006

About the CPI toxic gas leak - what kind of investigation is happening there ? The Weekly article says that Fire Dept had CPI hire someone to do the investigation.

"Following an initial probe, the city required CPI to hire an outside investigator to figure out exactly what happened and to outline how to avoid such a release in the future, Firth said."
Firth is the Fire Marshal.

I wonder how this be an impartial and fair investigation if CPI hires someone to investigate itself. Sounds strange to me. Why didn't the Fire Department do its own investigation ? Isn't that what they're trained and paid to do? If the Fire Department really can't do the investigation, why didn't they hire some outside investigator?

Comments (2)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2006 at 9:32 am

My understanding is that the Fire Dept has done its own investigation of the incident. The Fire Dept also required that in addition to CPI's internal investigation, CPI was required to contract with an independent third party expert to review their practices and the incident.

The Planning Commission meeting on this past Wed addressed the future Zoning Code "Performance Standards". The purview of this meeting was to review the broader policy issues rather the CPI issue in particular. However, the CPI incident was adressed by the public and certainly was part of the framework for the policy discussion. the Commission had good input from neighbors, the Fire Dept and Planning Dept staff. The staff will be returning to the Planning Commission in the next few weeks with responses to the Commission's requests and recommendations.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2006 at 7:47 pm

Resident et al,
The follow-up Planning & Transportation Commission meeting is this Wednesday, Nov 1, (Item 2 following a 6 pm study session), ...

... but please read on ...

There are two key areas with regard to the accidental release of nitric acid from CPI on February 2.

The first is fairly well understood: The forthcoming report of the city-attorney and fire-department investigation, corrective action implemented, and potential punitive measures imposed.

The second crucial concept, however, is only now entering public, city commission, and city council consciousness. That is, how and why a facility with such an extremely high level of toxic substances should be so close to a residential neighborhood, and what the city should now do to prevent this from ever happening again.

Thanks to the detailed research of Barron Park’s Arthur Liberman, we now know that CPI is in a select group of one of only about 20 sites in the entire county with levels of certain hazardous materials so high that it is covered by a special program, the California Accidental Release Management Program (CalARP), often referred to by its section in the California Health & Safety Code, “Title 19.”

The Title 19 threshold substances at CPI include 4161 lbs of nitric acid (over four times the threshold level) and 631 pounds of potassium cyanide (over 6 times the threshold level). A third substance, hydrogen gas, is just under the Title 19 threshold level.

Under Title 19 regulations, CPI must file a risk management plan for approval with the county. Within the worst-case scenarios in their most recent risk management plan is the reaction of a quantity of potassium cyanide with an acid (for example, nitric acid) released over 10 minutes to a “toxic endpoint” of 0.2 miles. Refer to your high school chemistry, and then dwell briefly on the resultant gas from such a reaction.

But current policy in the planning department is that Title 19 sites are not any of their business. Hazardous materials above certain “exempt” quantities are allowed in various “industrial” zones in the city, and the county deals with the oversight of these sites.
Palo Alto’s Fire Department handles the “technical” matters of inspections, compliance, and response, if needed.

The Title 19 toxics issue has recently come up within the context of a new hazardous materials section in revised “Performance Criteria,” currently before the Planning & Transportation Commission. Performance criteria are designed to deal with potential adverse impacts of commercial and industrial areas that are near residential neighborhoods.

Within the new hazardous materials section, the city is proposing to notify residents of risk management plans filed with the county.

This is appropriate and necessary, but hardly sufficient.

The city must regulate Title 19 facilities, and at a minimum, ban new ones adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

Anything less is a prescription for potential disaster.

Fred Balin

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