In 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency signed the Clean Air Act into law requiring industries that kept certain chemicals on site to publish a Risk Management Plan by 1999. As the year comes to a close, Tri-State Generation and Transmission fulfilled its obligation to create a Risk Management Plan and make area residents aware of the chemicals it stores and how it plans to keep those chemicals from releasing into the air, soil or water.
Few people attended a public meeting Tuesday to discuss the potential chemical hazards presented by Tri-State or learn about the safety precautions in effect to protect the power station and surrounding residents from a chemical spill.
Tri-State keeps only one chemical that exceeds Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits, requiring a Risk Management Plan chlorine. According to Tri-State Operations Superintendent Tim Driver, the chlorine used is similar to household bleach. It is used to treat circulating water that moves through cooling towers and controls algae, slime and bacterial growth in the towers.
"Without it, the water wouldn't flow," Driver said.
About six tons, or 12,000 pounds, of chlorine are kept on site at Tri-State, exceeding the EPA threshold of 2,500 pounds.
Elements of the Tri-State Risk Management Plan include assessing potential hazards, implementing an emergency response plan, creating a prevention program, holding training and drills and ensuring management and employee participation.
Chlorine is delivered to Tri-State in 1-ton cylinders and, according to Driver, those are inspected before they are accepted. In the 20 years Tri-State has been using chlorine a cylinder has never had to be returned and no accidents have occurred, Driver said.
The chlorine is stored and used in an enclosed building and several engineering and administrative controls are installed.
"We monitor everything," Driver said.
Employees and contractors who work in or near the chlorine storage building are thoroughly trained and the system has a lock-out program to prevent unauthorized access. The controls are manned 24-hours each day, seven days each week.
"There is always someone on site who is aware and cognizant of the condition of the chlorine site," Driver said.
EPA regulations require Tri-State to consider a "worst-case scenario" and make preparations for responding. At Tri-State, the worst-case scenario is if one cylinder were to explode, releasing chlorine into the air.
"It's very unlikely this would happen due to prevention and the monitoring system," Driver said.
Because of the precautions taken, a natural disaster is the only event Tri-State officials could think would cause a tank rupture or a valve leak.
"The chances of one of those cylinders rupturing is not even possible. I don't even know what would cause one to break," said Barbara Wall, Tri-State environmental specialist.
In the worst-case scenario, chlorine molecules could reach a 2.2-mile radius from Tri-State. At that range, a few residences, the landfill and the motocross track could be impacted. Studies show an individual can be exposed to 3 parts per million of chlorine for up to an hour without serious symptoms or health effects.
A more realistic, but still unlikely scenario, Driver said, would be a leaking cylinder. Chemicals could be released to cover a .6-mile radius during a leak that would have no impact to residences or recreation facilities.
In the case of a rupture or leak, Tri-State provides emergency response training, has a fully equipped and trained hazardous response team and can have the local fire department on scene within five minutes. The plan also requires Tri-State officials notify the Local Emergency Planning Committee that has a copy of the Tri-State emergency plan.
There are five actions Tri-State takes that officials believe will ensure a spill never happens: prevention, ongoing training, ongoing maintenance, controls and drills.
"We're very confident this is not an issue to people in the community at all," Driver said. "It's our commitment to protect people in our community. It's a management commitment."