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Rejected toxic gas shipments come back to US in containers intended for export

The United States is ending up with some of the rejected export shipments of the deadly gas that leaked in India. France and Brazil appear to be having second thoughts about receiving any more of the chemical, methyl isocyanate. Containers of the chemical were about to be exported when the Indian gas leak occurred, but instead they have been shipped back to Union Carbide's Camden County, Ga., facility.

But rather than being shipped in special tanker trucks, the way the gas has normally been shipped between plants in the US in recent years, the rejected gas is being kept in the 55-gallon drums intended for export.

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This drums increase chances of mishap, says Hagan Thompson, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta. There is a greater chance of an accident in handling many smaller containers (the drums) than there is handling a few big ones (tanker trucks), he said, citing the ''consensus'' of a number of EPA officials in Atlanta.

And even Union Carbide's method of handling the tanker trucks at the plant can be made safer, says Mr. Thompson, who visited the plant this week. The trucks are parked where they could be accidentally hit by an employee driving through the area, he said. He suggests the company erect barriers around the parked trucks.

A Union Carbide official at the Georgia plant insists the drums are safe. ''These drums are not your run-of-the-mill drums,'' he said. Federal regulations allow shipments in drums, if the containers meet specifications.

County officials in Camden County, where 128 drums of the rejected gas have been shipped by truck from a Virginia port, are concerned. And once again they feel as if the company has kept them in the dark.

''They didn't tell us the drums were coming in,'' Kenneth Gay, chairman of the county's board of commissioners, told the Associated Press Wednesday. ''And they didn't tell us they were going to be used to continue production. I'm going to have to call another meeting.''

He had met with company officials earlier to discuss emergency evacuation plans in the event of a gas leak.

An official at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington confirmed Thursday that on Monday, the governor of Rio de Janeiro had blocked unloading of the latest shipment of the Union Carbide gas. Numerous reports in the French press indicate that a top-ranking environmental official in the French government decided to postpone further French acceptance of the gas.

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