Chemical plant cog in wheel of distribution|[06/17/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Swimming pool owners are preparing for another hot summer in the typical way, cleaning those pools with healthy doses of a widely used chemical distributed by a local business prospering quietly in a resurgent sector of the local economy.

Calcium hypochlorite is a key ingredient in High-Test Hypochlorite – sold in solid and granulated form under the trademark HTH – and is a poolside must for killing algae and other bacteria.

“I use the granules. It keeps it clean, keeps the algae out,” said local pool owner Jimmy Bagby.

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Chemical compounds used by Bagby and others in Vicksburg readying their backyard party pads for the summer are sold to manufacturers on a daily basis at Harcros Chemical Inc., whose distribution center on Rifle Range Road brings in industrial chemicals from their producers and resells it to commercial customers.

John Miles, general manager of the facility, said the bulk of its local activity involves selling components like caustic acids and sodas used in multiple industries, including municipal water treatment and offshore oil exploration.

“It’s a service business,” Miles said, adding Harcros’ role as a middleman for chemical distribution has been enhanced in recent years by a refined spokes-in-a-wheel business model patterned after the retail industry. Vicksburg is centrally located in the company’s south-central region, where products are sent to customers served by locations in Memphis, Shreveport, Little Rock, West Point, Miss., and St. Gabriel, La.

“When we can implement the efficiency of the model, we’ll be more successful in shipping it on to our customers,” Miles said. “We’re just getting started.”

Headquartered in Kansas City, Kan., the privately held company is a major distributor and producer of industrial chemicals with 29 sites in 20 states. Its 105.7-acre Vicksburg branch operates on parts of land formerly occupied by Vicksburg Chemical, which closed in 2002 following bankruptcy and was a supplier to Harcros. Nearly 500 additional acres were deeded to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality as part of an $8 million contamination cleanup effort until 2006, when plans to develop a casino and golf course took shape and Harcros closed a Jackson location and moved its physical operations to Vicksburg.

By 2009, another industry related to the petrochemicals could open just a few miles south in another site with a checkered history.

Permits were issued in February to Vicksburg Petroleum Products LLC to restart the former Barrett Refining site on Warrenton Road. The refinery closed and its corporate parent went bankrupt in 1996 amid a host of violations of federal pollution and labor laws.

While the bulk of its business is distributing chemicals, some production of emulsifiers, defoamers and numerous specialized substances takes place at the company’s Kansas base.

“The most complicated thing we’ll do here is simple blending,” Miles said.

Chemicals carrying a high safety risk for spills and leaks are distributed from Harcros facilities around the country, though not in Vicksburg, according to the company.

In August 2007 at its newest plant in Dalton, Ga., a storage tank containing anhydrous ammonia overflowed and leaked after company officials indicated a filling sensor failed, causing evacuations from surrounding businesses and homes.

Inquiries by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency followed. In February, Harcros agreed to pay $665 in fines and finance a $5,000 supplemental environmental project after EPA found the company violated laws governing timely notification to state and local emergency management.