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FMC to Close Pocatello Plant

by Dave Wilkins
Capital Press, October 19, 2001

POCATELLO, Idaho -- FMC Corp. will halt production at its Pocatello phosphorus plant after more than half a century of operation, company officials announced last week.

The loss of the plant's 310 hourly wage jobs by the end of the year is expected to take a heavy toll on the Eastern Idaho community.

"While any job losses in Idaho are concern, tolose a longtime corporate citizen like FMC is particularly disheartening," Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said.

"As a former FMC emplyee, I'm very familiar with the Pocatello plant and its special relationship with surrounding communities," he said.

Kempthorne directed the Idaho Department of Labor to offer assistance in Power and Bannock counties to determine what services and assistance can be offered to employees.

FMC has operated the plant under a joint venture with Solutia Inc., since April of 2000.

The joint company, known as Astaris, also operates plants in Kansas, New Jersey and Missouri.

The Astaris Pocatello plant produces elemental phosphorus, a naturally occurring material refined from shale.

Phosphates produced at Astaris' plants are used in many diferent industries to produce a host of products, including the phosphorus and potassium used in fertilirs. Phosphates can also be used to produce food additives such as emulsifying agents in pasteurized processed ches, leavening agents in baking goods and dditives to nondairy creamers.

The Pocatello phosphorus plant was built n 1948 by Westvco Chemical Corp. FMC purchased the business a year later.

FMC will be responsible for cleaning up the site after the shutdown under U.S. Environmental Protectioin Agency rules.

Closing the Pocatello phosphorus plant will allow the company to switch more of its production to purified phosphoric acid, an alternative product that serves the sme market needs, but requires much less energy to produce.

Rising electricity costs were a factor in the decision to close the plant, but not the only factor, Astaris officials said.

Astaris is Idaho Power Company's largest industrial customer.

Idaho Power officials said a new contract with Astaria was signed last April and extends to April 2003. It requires Astaris to purchase 120 megawatts of electricity load from the utility, then requires Idaho Power to buy back 50 megamwatts at a fixed higher rate -- regrdless of whether the plant shuts down.

But Astaris will actually receive more money for the 50 megawatts of eletricity it will sell back to Idaho Power than it will pay for the entire 120 mgawatts itmust buy, Idaho Power spokesman Jeff Beanman said.

The decision to halt phosphorus production at the Pocatello plant will lower both operating costs and long-term environmental costs at the site, company officials said.

"For FMC, this announcement closes a chapter in our long assocition with the Pocatello plant. We will now switch our environmental focus from existing operatioins to completing our obligatioins to remediate and restore the site," FMC Vice President Robert Harries said.

Idaho's four-member congressional delegatioin said they are hopeful that economic development efforts will help bring new jobs to the area.

"FMC/Astaris has struggled mightily to continue operating on tight financial margins, and the softness in the economy, coupled with competitive issues related to our ongoing international trade problems, is now costing us an economic leader in Idaho and many jobs for hardworking Idahoans," the delegation said in a joint press release.

"We know these jobs will be hard to replace, but we will employ the economic assistance programs and summit meetings we have convened over the past year to find assistance and alternative work for thos affected by this massive layoff," the delegation said.

FMC is one of the world's leading producers of chemicals and machinery for industry and agriculture. The company employs about 15,000 workers at more than 90 manufacturing facilities in 25 countries.

from The 13th Element by John Emsley

(p.220) So successful was the new process that productioin of phosphorus by the retort method ceased in 1895.

The new phosphorus plants had to be near a cheap supply of electricity, which generally meant hydroelectricity. (It requires about 14 megawatt hours of electricity to produce a ton of phosphorus.)

(p.224) Although the amount of elemental phosphorus produced in developed countries continues to decline, golbal production is still in excess of half a million tons a year. The continued demand for elemental phosphorus is guaranteed by the need for phosphorus trichloride (PCl3), the starting material for the world's top-selling herbicide, glyphosate, which is made by Monsanto and marketed as Round-up.

The 1990s saw even greater changes in phosphorus manufacture and at the end of the twentieth century there were only two phosphorus plants in the US: at Soda Springs, Idaho, and Pocatello, in the same state, which is the world's largest. In Europe there is only one phosphorus plant, at Vlissingen in the Netherlands.

Related pages:
Toxics Release Inventory - Idaho 1997 from the Environmental Protection Agency

Dave Wilkins, Capital Press Staff Writer
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
FMC to Close Pocatello Plant
Capital Press, October 19, 2001

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