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O-CEL-O NEVER TOLD COUNTY OF TOXIC RELEASE, KEANE SAYS

Erie County officials said O-Cel-O Division officials never notified county emergency services personnel about an accidental release of three toxic substances last year despite federal laws requiring such notice.

"The first I heard of it was yesterday when I read that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was proposing to fine them $157,050," said Commissioner James Keane of the Emergency Services Department.

"It's important that companies promptly report such incidents because we have a responsibility to protect the public from such harmful releases," he said.

The EPA announced Thursday it is seeking $157,050 in fines from the company for failing to immediately report the release of toxic chemicals to federal, state and local officials from its Sawyer Avenue plant in the Town of Tonawanda on Aug. 30, 1989.

Joseph Grieco, president of O-Cel-O, a division of General Mills Inc., said he has not seen the EPA charges and is "trying to find out about it." He declined to comment further.

Despite releases that could cause respiratory problems and damage to the central nervous system, the EPA said that company officials waited seven hours after the discharge to notify state officials and 36 hours before they notified federal officials.

Keane said that if O-Cel-O had notified Erie County, Emergency Services would have relayed the information to federal and state officials.

The agency said it determined during an investigation that the O-Cel-O discharges included hydrogen sulfide, carbon disulfide and sulfur dioxide. Both the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the County Emergency Services Department maintain 24-hour hot lines that can be used by companies to report such accidents. Both are set up to alert fire, police and other emergency services to protect residents downwind of such releases.

"Without proper notification from facilities of accidental releases, these authorities cannot implement their emergency response plans and provide for the health and safety of their citizens," said EPA Regional Administrator Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff.

Keane said he will contact both company and EPA officials about the incident.

"O-Cel-O has been very cooperative about filing emergency plans and even contributed money towards the purchase of a mobile command center," Keane said. "I plan to pursue this."

The EPA said the company, which makes sponges, has 20 days to appeal the decision and fines.

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