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Questions about fire safety at proposed plastics company site fire up commissioners

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Nov 12 2012 10:37:52 PM CST
WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. -

Some answers about fire safety from the president of a plastics recycling company that wants to move into Whitehall Township had commissioners doing a slow burn Monday night.

Two of the seven commissioners even scolded Munish Suri, president of National Plastics & Manufacturing Co., for what they said were misleading answers Suri gave during a public hearing on a plan that would allow Suri's company to relocate from Palmer Township in Northampton County and lease space in a building at 1139 Lehigh Ave. in Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, about 20 miles away.

Ultimately, commissioners tabled the plan, which had been approved by the planning commission, and directed Suri to bring an expert to their Dec. 10 meeting to answer questions about safety precautions Suri is putting in place to avoid a repeat of a fire on July 15, 2011, at the Palmer plant that sent thick clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky and took firefighters more than six hours to extinguish.

Things became testy just before the commissioners' vote, when commissioner Gerard Palagonia confronted Suri for telling him earlier that there were no problems, complaints or lawsuits over the four-and-a-half years he has operated the National Plastics plant in Palmer Twp.

"It boggles me why you didn't mention the fire, and all of a sudden I've got these pictures here," an incredulous Palagonia said to Suri, referring to a photo of the fire that was passed among the commissioners.

Commissioner Phillip Ginder was even more unhappy with that portion of Suri's testimony. "I feel I was misled until this picture came up, and I don't ever want to think I'm being misled," he said.

During the hearing, Suri said the fire started outside the Palmer plant after a worker had conducted a "burn test" to determine the kind of recycling that would be done on a piece of plastic. He said the worker discarded the plastic into a dumpster, and that's how the fire began.

Suri said steps have been taken to insure that wouldn't happen at the proposed Whitehall facility, including storing all materials inside the building and having all burn tests conducted in a special area as well as installing a superior sprinkler system.

Suri said he wanted to move to Whitehall so he could double the size of his business to 40,000 square feet.

He explained that each month, the plant would produce 1 million to 1.5 million pounds of flakes, pellets and bales of plastic that would be sold to businesses that used recycled resins. He said he expected the plant would employ about 15 people and be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. five days a week, adding that shipping would be done from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with up to five tractor trailers coming and going each day.

Suri said the plastics to be recycled would be shaped by melting bands in an extruder that reach 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and that there would be no odors or noise to disturb people living nearby. Suri said there would be no air-conditioning in the plant, but there will be fans.

Several commissioners were skeptical of Suri's claims, especially about possible odors. "You heat plastic you have an odor," said commissioner Thomas Slonaker.

Russell Aaronson, one of three partners who bought the former Tarkett building in 2005 and converted it into business space, testified that National Plastics would fit in with the general industrial use of the building. He said the space National Plastics would lease previously was occupied by a plant and floral company that supplied Home Depot stores in the area.