THERE was fear and anger in Shannon after eight people were hospitalised following a chemical spillage at Chemifloc in December but speaking to The Clare Champion this week, a company spokesman defended its commitment to safety and said it will be making an investment of €150,000 in this area.
The spillage occurred on December 20 and six of those hospitalised still hadn’t come back to work three weeks’ later. Twenty nearby businesses had to be evacuated on the night.
It wasn’t the first incident at Chemifloc as in 2009 it was found guilty of having caused or permitted emissions to the atmosphere on May 24, 2007, and fined €5,000.
Despite these incidents, the spokesman said there is no reason for the public to be concerned. “Chemifloc takes health and safety very, very seriously. When you add up the cost of all the implementation of the changes that we’re doing at the moment, we’re going to be spending over €150,000 on health and safety between now and 2014. That’s money that’s going to be spent on consultants, on implementation, machines and pumps and tanks and stuff like that.
“Shannon should not be worried about Chemifloc. We’re a good employer, we produce a product, water treatment chemicals, that has to be carried out in Ireland. We’re here to stay, we are a safe company and it’s very unfortunate that that incident happened before Christmas.”
While he said that all of those hospitalised have now resumed work, he was unsure if they require ongoing checks. “I think they probably do but I’m not sure if there’s any final clearance or anything given, I’m not sure what the process is.”
He said that there is no possibility of anything like the 2007 incident happening once more.
“The first incident was a manufacturing process, which we no longer carry out so it can never happen again. We changed the method, we decided we would a different way, a more expensive way.”
The December incident happened while a road tanker was being loaded and he said that lessons have been learned.
“We now have a new procedure, we’ve brought in a speciality pump for pumping into the tankers. We’ve changed the procedure and we’ve spent a lot of money on putting a system in place that makes it easier to transfer.”
He said the chemical involved in the incident at Christmas was like bleach and had no effect on the wider environment or public health.
“It was very local, it was a very unfortunate thing but bleach is used everywhere and if you add acid to it you get chlorine gas given off. The equivalent to that is what happened. The main product that we use for the disinfectant, we’re spending €40,000 on a new tank and stuff to keep it separate from any other material.”
The company is looking to improve its accreditation, he added.
“We’re a serious organisation, we take health and safety very seriously. To that end, we’ve always been concerned about the quality of our products. We have ISO 9000 and our three main products are certified by the NSAI but that being said, because of the concerns for health and safety and the environment we have now committed to gaining accreditation to ISO 18001 and ISO 14001 by June 2014. ISO 14001 is the environmental standard and ISO 18001 is the health and safety standard.”
An EPA inspector visited the company the day after the incident and in his report he criticised how some materials were being stored. However, the spokesman said this was as a result of the confusion on the night, rather than an ongoing problem.
“At that time of the night it was dark and there were some things that were temporarily stored in the bunds rather than put into the correct place. That’s the problem there. It wasn’t that normally they’re stored all over the place.”