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Y2K Threatens Chemical Plants


Subject: Y2K: NEWS: Y2K Threatens Chemical Plants
From: NewHeavenNewEarth

Report: Y2K threatens chemical plants
By Reuters
Special to CNET

March 15, 1999, 11:30 a.m. PT,4,33752,00.html

Many U.S. plants that process hazardous chemicals may be vulnerable to Year 2000 computer bug failures, increasing the risk of accidents next January 1, a government agency said today.

In a report to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 computer problem, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said the so-called millennium bug could cause "significant" problems for the industry, including plant shutdowns, although multinational corporations should be ready in time.

It warned that small and medium-sized companies that process and store volatile chemicals could pose "large risks" to workers and surrounding communities because their plants were generally ill-prepared for the computer glitch.

The industry is particularly vulnerable to Year 2000 computer problems because those plants use such a wide variety of software and embedded microchips to control the temperature and mix of volatile chemicals.

In extreme cases, Year 2000 failures could result in runaway chemical reactions and accidents. The cutoff of electrical, natural gas, and water services to chemical plants would increase the threat.

More than 278,000 plants and facilities in the United States generate, transport, treat, store, or dispose of hazardous chemicals such as chlorine, propane, and ammonia.

Making matters worse, the agency said many local and state governments were "oblivious of the threat."

The millennium problem arises because many older computers record dates using only the last two digits of the year. If left uncorrected, such systems could treat the year 2000 as the year 1900, generating errors or system crashes next January 1.

"Most of the large and multinational companies are aware of the threat, know where to look for information, and have the know-how and resources to develop and implement compliance plans," the board's report said.

Exxon will spend $250 million to $270 million to fix the problem. It will cost Dow Chemical between $50 million and $70 million, according to the report.

But it said small and medium-sized companies were a "major concern" because many of them had been slow to prepare and may not have the resources to get the job done in time. "In the little time left, there is very little chance of changing that reality," the report said.

To minimize the risk, the board said chemical companies, suppliers, and government regulators needed to work more closely together. "Time is of the essence and this task must be done immediately," it said.

The agency also urged Congress to offer tax write-offs and other incentives to smaller companies to get them to fix their computer systems.


David Sunfellow Founder & Publisher, NewHeavenNewEarth (NHNE) Director, Sedona Y2K Task Force

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