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August 1, 2006

City Strobe: Cleaning up the dirty, dirty air, Part I

At least the sirens sounded this time. A spill just after 11 p.m. Monday night at Rubbertown’s Carbide Industries produced a cloud of toxic vapor over Bells Lane, the breadth of which an official with the company was unsure of Tuesday morning. Frank Sizemore, manager of engineering for the company — which has been at 4400 Bells Lane since November 2002 — said the cloud dissipated when the liquid spill was contained and cleaned up.The company will conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the leak, as well as how much gas was released.According to Sizemore, workers discovered a hydrochloric acid leak in a supply pipe around 11:15 Monday night. Within 30 minutes, they had stopped the leak and called 911, although 500 gallons of hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive chemical compound, had already escaped. Both the Metropolitan Sewer District and the Metro Health Department responded, as well as the Lake Dreamland Fire Department, which used water to disperse the vapor cloud, said Health Department spokesman Dave Langdon. The agencies conducted water and air quality tests, and by 3 a.m. determined that no evacuations were needed, although warning sirens were sounded close to midnight. Langdon said the sirens were activated because of the cloud. He said the Health Department tested air quality in two places just after the spill — 41st and Algonquin and on the backside of Carbide, on the Chevron property — and found no traces of hydrochloric acid in the air. Two weeks ago, the group REACT — Rubbertown Emergency ACTion — held a demonstration around the corner from Carbide demanding a better emergency response system to warn residents of dangerous spills. Eboni Cochran, a leader of the group, said she’s talked to several people who heard the sirens, although she did not. She lives about 2-1/2 miles from Carbide. Cochran is also a co-plaintiff in class action lawsuits targeting five plants in the Rubbertown area for harmful, dangerous emissions.Aundrea Briggs, who lives in Shively near Cane Run Road, heard a siren about 12:30 a.m., but wasn’t sure what it was for. She said she’s never heard the siren before, and wasn’t aware until this morning that it was to warn residents of a potential chemical hazard. Briggs, who has lived in Shively for four years, said there’s often a smell of chlorine in the air, and her car is always covered in a thin white film. —Stephen GeorgeCleaning up the dirty, dirty air, Part IIThe Environmental Integrity Project released “Dirty Kilowatts” — its third annual examination of the nation’s dirtiest power plants — last week. Collectively, nine power plants in Kentucky and Indiana (four and five, respectively) made the Top 50. The net objectionable output of each plant is measured by the amount of total pollution it emits relative to the amount of electricity it produces for the grid. Ilan Levin, who authored the report, said Tuesday in a phone interview that he’s noticed more power plants investing in scrubbers — equipment that reduces sulfur dioxide emissions — because that’s becoming less expensive than buying pollution credits, which, because of ratcheting federal standards, are seeing greater demand and rising in price. Levin noted that while such market pressure clearly bodes well for helping solve global and regional environmental problems, it hurts localities where stinky, dirty power plants can pay to maintain the status quo.Like in Kentucky. And Indiana. —Stephen GeorgeCleaning up the dirty, dirty streetsCouncilman James Peden, R-23, has been a volunteer firefighter for the Highview Fire District for 20 years. The full-time schoolteacher was making clean-up runs about two weeks ago — after a pair of strong storms had pummeled his South End district — when an idea struck: The people need a place that’s not some random alley to dump their storm waste. Unless you live in Louisville’s urban service district — the old City — you’ve got to either load up the pickup or pay someone to do it for you. That is a problem for most people. So Peden fashioned an arrangement among Solid Waste Management, Metro Parks, his office and the Bob Ray Co. — a local outfit that provided “The Beast,” a preternaturally powerful wood chipper — to turn Highview Park’s parking lot into a storm debris pile for one week. The result was nearly overwhelming. Peden estimated in a phone interview Monday that one-third of the parking lot was full of limbs, leaves, stumps and general storm ephemera. Once the clean-up was done Tuesday, they counted 125,000 pounds of plant material.The debris is being mulched, then sent out west, where it will be used in the production of biodiesel fuel. Peden is covering the cost — around $10,000 — with cash from his neighborhood development fund. “The benefit for the neighborhood — you can’t beat that with a stick,” he said, surely aware of the quality of his pun. —Stephen GeorgeHigh-speed cableIn a society that spends hundreds of billions of dollars on unnecessary wars and removes the tops off entire mountains to cop a cheap energy buzz — but still finds it too expensive to pay for sensible things like light rail, clean air and public education — it’s quite the jolt when common sense prevails. But just such a pleasant surprise has been greeting drivers on Interstates 64 and 71, where our normally maintenance-challenged Transportation Cabinet has been installing median cable barriers to prevent crossover head-on collisions.The shiny new barriers, which run from the Cochran Hill tunnels to Breckenridge Lane on I-64, and from downtown to the Snyder on I-71, will be completed by September at a relatively paltry cost of $1.7 million. Unlike concrete walls, the woven-rope barriers don’t slingshot cars back into traffic and are credited with saving countless lives worldwide.So, next time you’re cruising the interstate and a chain-smoking, cell-phone-gabbing driver doesn’t cross the median and smash your Prius flatter than a lite beer at a soon-to-be-built arena, you might give the jobs-for-votes Republicans in the Transportation Cabinet the props they deserve. And save some love for J-town Representative Steve Riggs, who has long been lobbying for the barriers on the Vote For Gene Snyder, where they’ll surely be installed, once our leaders realize fetuses sometimes travel that road as well.Just do it soon. In another few years, the barriers will probably need a coat of paint ... —Jim WelpTell us something useful: citystrobe@leoweekly.com