NEW YORK (CNNfn) - The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board warned Monday that small chemical companies, many of which are located near residential areas, may not be able to handle the Y2K computer glitch.
Almost 85 million Americans live, work and play within a 5-mile radius of facilities handling highly hazardous chemicals, but according to the safety board, this calculation may underestimate the full risk to the U.S. population.
The board said large chemical companies have the Y2K problem under control, but progress at as many as 200,000 small to midsize companies is sketchy.
Safety board employee Gerald Hoje said, "Efforts on the Y2K problem appear to be less than appropriate based upon inputs from many experts."
Since 1987, there have been an average of 60,000 chemical incidents a year, resulting in 250 deaths.
Without proper contingency plans the Y2K glitch could compromise not only manufacturers, but companies that transport and store chemicals. That's because computers play a role controlling everything from gauges to temperature control. An industry group representing small firms says its members are well aware of the risks.
"Our members are going to be prepared by the middle of this year," said Edmund Fording of the Synthetic Organic Chemicals Managing Association. "Part of that preparation is not only what they are looking at for their own company, but they reach out to their suppliers, they request letters from their suppliers to make sure their suppliers are compliant."
Currently, there are no federal Y2K guidelines for the chemical industry. The Chemical Safety Board says there should be. The board is urging local governments to develop their own emergency response plans.
Meanwhile, Congress will hold hearings on the issue to decide if further action is necessary.