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Van Wyck residents fire suggestions at meeting for explosives plant

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By Julie Graham

VAN WYCK – Amidst concerns over operations and safety, explosives manufacturer Dyno Nobel reached out to its Van Wyck neighbors at a community meeting Aug. 6 to introduce themselves and say their product was safe. 

The international company remodeled and opened the plant on Steele Hill Road in June to produce an explosive used mostly in the mining and construction industry.

The emulsion plant has 12 employees – three in the production facility and nine in transportation – who work to mix and ship about four tankers a day of emulsion containing the chemical compound ammonium nitrate to locations along the East Coast.

“The product we manufacture is very safe under normal operating conditions. We have many standard operating procedures which ensure this,” Kiel Kemp, Dyno Nobel’s director of North American emulsion plants, told about 40 people at the Van Wyck Community Development Club meeting. 

The business opened with concerns from the community over safety, road usage, after-hours security and operations altogether.

“Ninety-five percent of what we make is an oxidizer, which is safer than a blasting agent,” said Benita Rutherford, the plant manager. The other 5 percent is a blasting agent that takes a high impact to detonate.

Safety is the company’s first priority for its employees and the community, according to the company’s core values. 

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the state Fire Marshal’s Office regulate the company and the plant.

The final product, an emulsion, is mixed and quickly shipped out via tanker trucks. Dyno Nobel does not use the railroad. 

Officials say the solution is not stored for long at the Van Wyck plant and raw materials are trucked in daily. Tanks on the property are contained. A booster and detonator, required for explosion, do not travel with the outgoing tankers. 

“Is your product safer than what goes down our railroad tracks every day?” Van Wyck resident Linda Vaughan asked.

“Yes, it is,” Kiel replied. “Today, in America, we drive by it every day.”

On the day of the meeting, three loads were shipped to sites in North Carolina, New York and West Virginia.

The Van Wyck plant site had been idle since it was sold to Dyno Nobel in 2006. 

Former occupants of the site are thought to have manufactured dynamite and fertilizer, using the railroad as transportation, raising new alarms in the small community after the recent West, Texas, explosion that killed 15 people in April. 

“We don’t want to see Van Wyck on the nightly news,” said Pat Oglesby, who lives on Rebound Road and suggested the business add an overnight security guard to its staff.

“For the peace of mind of the community and the company, I would think it would be a good investment,” she said.

Rutherford, who has worked for Dyno Nobel for 26 years, said the plant locks its front gate, secures its equipment and has surveillance cameras recording activity around the clock. 

She recently gave members of the Van Wyck Fire Department a tour of the property and shared emergency plans.

“We believe in zero harm for everyone, everywhere,” she said.

After hearing from a resident that, if asked, the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office would add the company to its nightly patrol route, Rutherford said she would request that service if it is available.

Other residents voiced concerns over the number of trucks traveling Steele Hill Road, a secondary road that runs between S.C. 5 and U.S. 521 that is rough and lacks painted lines. 

“The road is not designed to handle large trucks,” said Rosa Sansbury, who owns a horse farm across the street. “That road is very poor. There are a lot of potholes.”

She also asked the company to look into instituting a reverse 911 call to neighbors if an emergency would occur at the plant. 

Kiel and Rutherford said Dyno Nobel plans to be a good neighbor and get involved in the community. 

With the prospect of a gold mine beginning operation in the county soon, there may be opportunity to grow, Kiel said. He has already met with officials of the Haile Gold Mine near Kershaw.

“We want to grow,” he said. “It’s good for the community and good for the economy.” 

About Dyno Nobel

Dyno Nobel, headquartered in Salt Lake City, is a leading supplier of industrial explosives and blasting services to the mining, quarrying, seismic and construction industries. 

The company is the market leader in North America, the largest explosives market in the world, and the second largest supplier in Australia, the third largest explosives market in the world. 

Dyno Nobel employs more than 3,000 people and has manufacturing facilities in Australia, Canada, the United States, Indonesia, Mexico, South America, Papua New Guinea and Turkey. 

For more information, visit http://www.dynonobel.com.