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South Korea Turns to Barnstable County for Hazardous Materials Advice

Updated Jul 22, 2017 at 7:00 AM

BARNSTABLE — A delegation from South Korea visited the Barnstable County Complex on Friday to discuss the county’s strategies for managing hazardous materials.

The group of 14 researchers, graduate students, engineers and industry experts was the second delegation to visit Barnstable County from South Korea. In June 2016, a smaller group visited to learn about U.S. laws on the subject of hazardous material reporting with the goal of implementing similar regulations in South Korea, he said.

In the U.S., the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, passed in 1986, requires that entities with hazardous materials over a certain threshold report the quantity and type to local and state agencies so a response plan can be developed in case of an emergency, said Amy Alati, emergency preparedness project assistant with the county.

Hazardous materials can range from diesel fuel to toxic chemicals, such as anhydrous ammonia, she said. A facility storing 10,000 pounds or more of a hazardous substance must file a report, she said. The threshold for extremely toxic chemicals is lower.

After the first South Korean delegation’s visit, members of the group began to set up a foundation for regulating the reporting of hazardous materials in the country. The second delegation hoped to gather more information about how agents in Barnstable County motivate businesses to comply with the regulations and bring that information back to colleagues in South Korea.

“I was just so honored and just really happy that they chose to come back again,” Alati said.

Barnstable County has a high rate of compliance from businesses that store hazardous materials in part because of extensive outreach from the county and a rapport that Alati said she’s developed with many business owners in the area.

Of the 436 facilities on Cape Cod and Nantucket that store hazardous materials over the threshold quantity, only 1 percent failed to file reports this year, Alati said. Martha’s Vineyard is not included in the count because the island is not a member of the Barnstable County Regional Emergency Planning Committee.

The types of facilities on Cape Cod that report their hazardous materials to the county include boat yards, departments of public works, pool chemical companies and plastics manufacturers, Alati said. The town with the highest amount of stored chemicals is Sandwich because of the power plant on the Cape Cod Canal.

The federal law requiring facilities to report the storage of these materials doesn’t only help local first-responders who need to know what types of chemicals they may encounter before responding to an emergency, but it also benefits members of the public, she said.

“The community has a right to know what chemicals are being stored and used in their town,” she said.

Although South Korea and Cape Cod are extremely different in terms of population and what kind of industries dominate the economy, the concept of protecting workers, first responders and community members from the potential risks of toxic chemicals remains the same, she said.

The biggest industry in South Korea that produces these types of chemicals is cellphone and electronics production, said Seungho Jung, an assistant professor at Ajou University in Suwon, South Korea, who was translating for the delegation.

Alati said she hoped the group would be able to return to South Korea with some new tools for collaborating with businesses.

“I want them to understand how we encourage our businesses and facilities to have better compliance,” she said.

—Follow Madeleine List on Twitter: @madeleine_list.