The safety of residents requires a strong partnership with communities and businesses to handle emergencies involving the release of hazardous chemicals, according the Portage County Local Emergency Planning Committee.

Carrying out state and federal responsibilities, the LEPC receives annual chemical inventory reports from local businesses and industries that utilize hazardous chemicals or store them on site, said Ryan Shackelford, director of the Portage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

PCOHS/EM is a department of the Portage County commissioners and is the county administrative agency for the LEPC.

"We have roughly 95 chemical facilities in Portage County and 43 use or store extremely hazardous substances. Even with reportable quantities, not all facilities create a significant hazard to the community. What is important is that we partner with companies and know the hazards at their sites in order to be prepared," said Shackelford.

Some examples of reportable chemicals found in Portage County are ammonia, chlorine and herbicides.

"The level of risk depends on many factors included in the hazard analysis for each facility. Some facilities have a significant hazard while others would not cause a concern in the event of a release," Shackelford added.

The LEPC members include elected officials and representatives from local governments, PCOHS/EM, police and fire departments, University Hospitals Portage Medical Center, Portage County Combined General Health District, Ohio EPA and company representatives.

The committee meets at 8:30 a.m. on the first Wednesday of alternating months at the Portage County Emergency Operations Center on Infirmary Road in Shalersville. The meetings are open to the public.

The LEPC works year-round on activities to stay prepared for emergencies, Shackelford said, from sponsoring educational forums for local companies, updating safety plans with local safety forces and initiating training exercises.

The committee works closely with the Hazardous Materials Team, an expert group of local firefighters trained to respond to emergencies involving hazardous materials, which is led by Kent Fire Department Lt. Craig Peeps.

Following the Bhopal, India, Union Carbide plant explosion, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act was passed as Title III of the Superfund and Reauthorizations Act of 1986.

Shackelford said the program was established with two main goals in mind for local and state officials: to facilitate and promote planning for chemical emergencies and to provide information to the public about the chemicals used, stored and released into their communities.

Shortly after that, Ohio Revised Code Chapter 3750 was enacted. It provides guidance and authority to Local Emergency Planning Committees to reduce the chance of hazardous chemical releases and to minimize any harmful impact they may have on the local community.

The State Emergency Response Commission establishes 13 exercise objectives the LEPC must meet within a four-year exercise cycle to test the validity of the county's Chemical Response Plan. Portage County has met these requirements for over 20 years and is looking to enhance planning with newer technology such as Geographic Information Systems.

Beyond facilities, the LEPC also takes into account transportation routes, including highways and rail lines within the county, Shackelford pointed out. The amount of hazardous chemicals present on transportation routes is not taken lightly.

Both train and truck traffic may present a significant risk to the county that can be extremely difficult to plan for due to the wide variety of hazardous materials being transported across the county at any given time.

Shackelford encourages residents to understand the hazards within your community or facilities nearby. Information about local facilities can be requested through the LEPC information coordinator at 330-297-3609.

Email: mmerchant@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4156