EMA emphasizes preparedness in wake of REEF
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – With REEF in the air, the Talladega County Emergency Management Agency is taking the opportunity to remind citizens to be prepared.

The agency also emphasizes that the safety of citizens is at the forefront of cleanup efforts at the former waste treatment plant, said TCEMA Director Deborah Gaither.

“I know the citizens of Sylacauga, Oak Grove and surrounding areas are fed up with the awful stench that exists in their neighborhoods,” Gaither said. “But I want to reassure them that air monitoring continues, and at no time has a hazardous level of any gas or chemical been detected by the data we have been shown from ADEM and EPA.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and The Alabama Department of Environmental Management set up residential air monitoring at seven locations in neighborhoods around the Twin Street site about two weeks ago. The systems are primarily monitoring levels of hydrogen sulfide, which registered at 0.0 parts per million at every location on the latest readings from Oct. 8.

ADEM previously said the gases coming from REEF have a low odor threshold, and therefore emit a strong smell long before they become a health hazard.

Gaither said the EMA is assisting the agencies in any way possible as they develop a plan to treat and remove the 13 million gallons of wastewater at the site starting this week.

“I do know ADEM and EPA have stepped up the process to having this problem solved as soon as possible,” she said. “I know it has been a long, hard battle for the citizens and business owners, and we support them. We are doing the best that our agency can to support ADEM and EPA, and also to encourage them to move rapidly at eliminating this stench and eyesore in the community.”

The EMA was set up at REEF for more than a week as the agencies performed emergency response earlier this month. Gaither said during that time she became concerned that citizens were unprepared for emergencies, and not just those involving REEF.

“After being on-site for more than a week to watch the monitoring of air levels and the testing of liquid and solid samples, I am more concerned that citizens in those areas be prepared for other, more likely hazardous incidents, such as railway accidents, transfer truck incidents, industry chemical releases and more,” Gaither said.

With that in mind, the EMA encourages citizens to review and practice the steps to sheltering in place and evacuating.

Steps to sheltering in place are as follows: move inside immediately, close and lock all windows and doors, turn off all ventilation and close air vents, enter a centralized location and cover crevices on windows doors and vents with plastic and duct tape.

To evacuate, follow these steps: stay calm, assemble family members if you are at home, do not wait for family members to return if they are not home, get family into a single vehicle and depart immediately after message to evacuate is given, do not attempt to return home if you are not there, do not use the telephone, take medication and other essential items with you, do not attempt to pick up your children at school, offer neighbors a ride if needed and as space permits. Citizens are also asked not to call 911 during an evacuation or sheltering unless there is a life-threatening situation like a heart attack.

“By no means am I trying to minimize the concerns and fears of the citizens, businesses, schools and others that live, work or play near the waste plant in question,” Gaither said. “It is at the top of our priority list. I am simply encouraging citizens, schools and businesses to take this opportunity to work on emergency plans for themselves and practice steps to help ensure their safety should an incident or event of any kind occur. Our agency will be glad to help anyone, any group or agency in creating a plan.”

Gaither said warnings of any incident could come from several means, including outdoor warning sirens, NIXEL, NWS radio, route alerting from city or county vehicles and local Emergency Alert System stations. EMA suggests citizens keep a portable radio and batteries in the emergency supply kit.

For more information on preparedness, visit www.talladegaema.org. For updates on REEF from EPA, visit www.epaosc.org/reefwaste.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2012