Prince George's County has at least 86 facilities that handle chemicals so dangerous they would kill or injure hundreds of people in a major leak or fire, according to county records.
The facilities include manufacturers, warehouses, retail businesses and public facilities that use chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency has put on an "extremely hazardous" list.
The list was developed as part of a program to help local governments identify chemical risks in their communities and work with the facilities to lower the chances of a catastrophe. The governments' hazardous materials response plans are public records, and The Washington Post reviewed them to determine the number of high-risk facilities in the region and whether government officials are prepared for a disaster.
In all, there are 607 such facilities in the Washington area; with 86 sites, Prince George's ranks second after Montgomery County (177), followed by neighboring Anne Arundel County (79) in Maryland. Fairfax County, with 65 sites, has the most in Northern Virginia. Comparisons are hard to make, because some counties have more industry than others, and Montgomery has a stricter standard for reporting, which boosts its overall total.
The plants store and use such materials as chlorine, sulfuric acid and ammonia, all of which can be fatal even in small amounts.
After The Post requested the Prince George's plan, officials had to pull together the records because its response plan was not up to date. Prince George's has only one firefighter assigned to keep records current, and he acknowledged it is hard to assemble the information every year as required by federal law.
Craig Walker Black, hazardous materials coordinator for Prince George's, said the county lacks the funds to stay on top of the plan. He said the county receives about 120 hazardous materials calls a year, most of them gasoline or oil spills.
In addition to the risk posed by the permanent facilities, county residents also face the threat of a random accident involving hazardous materials on Prince George's major highways, CSX railroad tracks and three natural gas and liquid petroleum product pipelines. The highways include the Capital Beltway, Interstate 95 and Route 301. Routes 50, 4, 5 and 210 also carry heavy truck traffic.
"Because of the proximity of Route 301 to petrochemical facilities in New Jersey and Delaware, an increasing amount of hazardous materials traffic is now using the Route 301 corridor instead of I-95/I-495," the Prince George's emergency response plan says.
Large amounts of munitions and explosive cargo are carried along the Route 210 (Indian Head Highway) corridor, the plan says, because of the nearby U.S. Navy Ordnance Station at Indian Head.
The Air Products and Chemicals Inc. plant in Bladensburg, part of an international corporation that manufactures and sells industrial gases, is an example of a facility that is of special concern, according to the plan. The plant sells propane, chlorine, ammonia, diesel fuel and "assorted gases," the county plan notes, all of which are dangerous, especially if mixed together.
David Nettina, the Northeast Area Service Manager for Air Gas, said most customers buy propane, which is stored in two large tanks. The plant is designed to contain a chemical leak, he said, and the company has its own team to respond to accidents.
CAPTION: Hazardous Chemicals in Prince George's (This graphic was not available)