Thursday, December 9, 1999

Star-Bulletin file photo
Acid pooled at the Brewer site as seen in a photo before a state-
supervised cleanup. The fence marks Chevron property.
The powdery subtance is soda ash.

Spill communication
between Brewer, fire
department criticized

By Harold Morse


The Thanksgiving Day sulfuric acid spill at Campbell Industrial Park featured less than ideal communication between the Fire Department and Brewer Environmental Industries personnel.

That came out in a postmortem last night before the Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board at the Campbell Building in Kapolei. But Fred Kubota, BEI vice president for sales and operations, countered that he was on the scene and was "astounded" to hear such after-the-fact accusations.

It looked to him as though firefighters and BEI people were talking things over on how to contain and neutralize the spill, he said. Fire Department officers indicated they never knew who Kubota was or that he was in senior management. He said he had arrived in a truck delivering bags of soda ash.

Fire Capt. Robert Butchart, hazardous materials officer, said a BEI supervisor and staff people were not properly suited to cope with a sulfuric acid spill. Several Fire Department protective suits were ruined, worth $700 or $800 each, he added. Federal firefighters also ruined some suits. "It's a very expensive emergency for our Fire Department," he said. "We spent over 11 hours at that site rotating four-man teams in putting soda ash on that spill."

However, both Brewer and Fire Department people seemed favorable last night to meet later and deal with communication barriers.

The Fire Department got its first word on the spill from a nearby Chevron worker, and the first fire company arrived at 2:17 p.m.

Earlier, Stephen Knox, BEI president, said he was notified about 1:30 p.m. "from an alert person at Chevron." Brewer staff were on the property about 2 p.m., Knox said. The tradewinds were blowing southwest and out to sea any fumes formed from contact of the acid with bleach in a ditch, and Brewer workers started transferring everything from the tank that was leaking acid to another tank, Knox said.

Brewer employees had already started putting down soda ash to neutralize the acid when firefighters arrived, he said. Two Brewer workers stayed until about 7:30 p.m., then left when state Occupational Safety and Health people said they were not in the right protective clothing, Knox said. The Brewer supervisor stayed until after midnight, he added.

Brewer gave a detailed slide presentation on its operation and the spill itself, and a half-dozen company officials took part. Board members wondered why the leak set off no alarms and why the faulty pipe was not detected in inspections. Knox said since the pipe was underground, it was not checked -- as all above-ground pipes were.

Gary Gill, deputy director of health for the environment, noting that Brewer will pay for the state Department of Health-supervised cleanup, said he didn't know how much it would cost but that it would be expensive.

Brewer speakers repeatedly voiced regret over the spill and vowed to take steps to avoid another. They want to regain community confidence, they said.

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