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Hazmat team raises concern

Published March 16. 2012 05:01PM

A Carbon County commissioner is questioning the proposal to hire a hazardous materials contractor that isn't state certified.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Commissioner William O'Gurek asked why the county was approving Rapid Response Inc. of Northampton to be the county's secondary Hazmat contractor when it was not yet state certified. The primary Hazmat contractor, Environmental Products and Services of Vermont, is certified.

"I wondered if the Carbon County Local Emergency Planning Committee or the commissioners were aware that the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency regulations require secondary contractors to be state certified," O'Gurek asked.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, said that this action gives the county the authority to sign a letter of support so that Rapid Response can become PEMA certified.

"Without sponsorship by a county, they cannot get certified," he said, noting that Northampton County, where Rapid Response's main office is located, already has a Hazmat team in place.

Nothstein added that Rapid Response already has Hazmat contracts with area companies like Ametek in Nesquehoning; as well as with the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

"For certification for emergency response, they need a letter," he said, noting that they have already met the other criteria for certification.

O'Gurek pointed out that the language of the motion approves Rapid Response as the secondary contractor and could cause problems for the county if it responded to an incident before it is state certified.

He said he spoke with John Rozman of the division of technological hazardous planning for PEMA about the situation.

Rozman explained to O'Gurek, that Pennsylvania Act 165 provides protection to certified hazardous materials response teams, including immunity from civil liability to a certified hazardous material response team, the dispatcher, and elected officials for any death, injury, loss or damage to property resulting from a response to a hazardous material release except for gross negligence or willful misconduct.

It also authorizes a certified hazardous material response team to enter any private or public property in order to respond to a release or a threatened release.

"None of these provisions apply to a noncertified team," Rozman said to O'Gurek. "In fact, it is my opinion that the dispatch of a noncertified team to an incident that clearly calls for a certified team could be considered gross negligence."

O'Gurek then addressed funding, which is available to certified teams.

He said that a special account is in place to reimburse certified teams for costs they incur as a result of the response.

This, however, does not cover noncertified teams, O'Gurek said Rozman told him. Instead, it would be the county's responsibility to reimburse the team from the general fund.

"I have some serious concerns with this motion today," O'Gurek said.

Nothstein asked if O'Gurek would be in support of giving Rapid Response a letter of support so they can become certified.

O'Gurek said he would be in favor of discussing this.

The motion to approve the contractors was withdrawn and the item will be addressed at a later commissioners' meeting.

In other matters, the commissioners approved the release of funds from the hotel tax in the amount of $4,000. The money will be awarded to Jim Thorpe Borough Council and used for police protection during tourist activities this year.

The board also approved an unconventional gas well ordinance in the county.

The commissioners also received letters from U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and state Sen. David Argall in response to letters they sent about state and federal issues.

Toomey said that he has contacted that United States Department of Agriculture regarding its proposed consolidation of several Farm Service Agencies, including the Carbon County office; and asked the department to pursue a more open and transparent dialogue with Pennsylvanians about the consolidations.

Argall responded to concerns the county had about funding cuts on the state level.

He said that he will do everything he can when preparing the 2012-2013 state budget to address the 20 percent cuts to Mental Health and Developmental Services in Carbon County.

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