By Kyle Haines, THP Tracking Center
November 5, 2009
Yesterday (Nov 4th), SPI was caught not reporting a potentially life threatening release of hazardous materials to authorities right away. A truck driver hooked up the wrong tank at the Quincy co-generation plant and mixed 20-30 gallons of sodium hypochlorite, essentially bleach, with 200 gallons of hydrochloric acid, which caused a chemical reaction that gave off 30 pounds of chlorine gas and an undetermined amount of liquid sodium monoxide. Four workers were injured by the incident and according to the Plumas County News reporter authorities did not know of the hazardous release until people started showing up at the emergency room.
The fact that such an incident could occur at a company that owns over 21 facilities in 2 states and employs 4,400 people is not so unusual, but the pattern of late reporting and/or cover ups is. In 2004, California Attorney General Jerry Brown sued alleging that SPI’s sawmills and wood-fired boilers in Lincoln and Quincy were egregious air polluters. “On hundreds of days … SPI polluted the air with smog-forming oxides of nitrogen (NOx), carbon monoxide, and particulate matter far in excess of permit limits,”. As restitution, in 2007, Sierra Pacific agreed to pay the state $8.5 million in penalties and attorney fees and to plow millions more into upgrading its pollution-control equipment.
Putting the public at risk seems to be a re-occuring problem with SPI. The Quincy incident happened right next to an elementary school and residential area. Chlorine is one of the most dangerous industrial chemicals known to man which can kill all lifeforms within a half mile in just a matter of minutes from release. State law requires immediate notification and reporting to authorities, much faster than the hour long delay before SPI admitted a release had occurred.