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Local officials prepared for hazardous chemical situations

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, @CatherineH_WFMZ, chawley@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 18 2013 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 19 2013 06:18:29 AM CDT

The explosion in Texas has some Lehigh Valley residents concerned a similar blast could happen locally.

The explosion in Texas has some Lehigh Valley residents concerned a similar blast could happen locally. Well it already has: you might recall the Concept Sciences explosion in 1999. Five people died when the building was decimated in Hanover Township.

While the Lehigh Valley doesn't have any facilities quite like one in Texas, Lehigh and Northampton counties do have hazardous chemicals. But emergency management officials know about all of them.

"Under federal law each of these facilities that contains a certain portion of hazardous materials has to report to us," explained Robert Mateff, director of Emergency Management Services for Northampton County.

Records show 176 facilities in Northampton County and 117 in Lehigh County contain chemical substances, with 47 locations in Northampton County and 108 companies in Lehigh housing the most dangerous. 911 dispatchers have all that information at their fingertips.

"As soon as a call would be received we would know that the facility is one of the reporting facilities or it's a planning facility and that information can be passed on to the first responders," shared Mateff.

That information gives hazmat crews a heads-up of what they'll be up against.

"Everything is very dependent on what that information tells us," said Special Operations Team Coordinator in Lehigh County John Kalynych. "The level of protection we're going to use to put the guys in to go down and mitigate the problem to how far we're going to evacuate if that becomes necessary."

The Lehigh County Special Operations team has about 45 members including chemists and scientists. They cover Lehigh and Northampton counties as the primary hazmat response. Allentown and Bethlehem have their own teams.

"Everybody trains hard, works hard to know what they're doing," added Kalynych. "You can never be totally prepared for every incident, it's just they're dynamic, they're constantly changing."

But officials say crews go through extensive training to be as ready as they can be.

More information is available online:

Northampton County's reverse 911 services

Lehigh County's reverse 911 services