An explosives recycling company that authorities said improperly stored millions of pounds of a military propellant, causing the evacuation of a Louisiana town last year, was stripped of its state explosives licenses on Monday.
Louisiana State Police spokeswoman Julie Lewis said Explo System Inc.’s state explosives licenses will remain revoked “pending the adjudication of all civil and/or criminal violations.”
The company has not been charged with any crimes, but state and federal investigations are ongoing.
A message left Monday at Explo System’s office was not immediately returned.
Explo Systems had a multimillion-dollar military contract to dismantle military propelling charges that are used to fire artillery rounds. The company operated on space leased at Camp Minden, a Louisiana National Guard installation in northwest Louisiana.
An explosion last October led authorities to look more closely at Explo and its facility.
When an investigator went to the facility, authorities say, he discovered millions of pounds of an improperly stored propellant chemical called M6, leading to the evacuation of nearby Doyline, the town known as the backdrop for the TV series “True Blood.”
Authorities say the M6 should have been stored in certified magazines – sometimes called bunkers – but some of it was found in boxes stacked in buildings, packed into long corridors that connect the buildings or “hidden” among trees outside. Some of the containers were spilling open, authorities say.
Authorities feared that ignition of any of the propellant could set off a massive chain reaction that would race through the corridors and blow up multiple buildings, threatening Doyline. Its 800 residents were put under a voluntary evacuation order for several days in December.
State police monitored the movement of the material into proper storage magazines, which took months as some of it was sold to other companies and the Guard provided additional space available at the installation.
Lewis said more than 10 million pounds of the material has now been properly stored and Explo relinquished its keys to the magazines at the installation. Also, state police said in a news release, about 100,000 pounds of flammable solid material and 130,000 pounds of Tritonal have been moved to proper storage locations.
“Our primary concern is always that of public safety,” Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said in a written statement. “That hazard has been alleviated and now we can focus on those criminal violations which have threatened so many innocent people.”
The state police continues to investigate and upon completion will release a final report to the Webster Parish District Attorney’s Office.
The Army gave Explo a $2.9 million annual contract in March 2010 to dismantle up to 450,000 propelling charges a year, with options for renewal for four years.
Each charge contains 20.6 pounds of M6, according to Explo Systems’ own plans, meaning the company could take in nearly 9.3 million pounds each year under the contract.
At some point, the company ran out of storage room and in early 2012 asked to lease more space at the installation, the Guard said. The company was turned down because it was about $400,000 behind on rent.
Documents obtained by the Associated Press under a public records request suggest Explo overstated its storage capacity when applying for the Army contract.
In a proposal to the Army on Jan. 21, 2010, Explo Systems said it had “storage capacity for more than 70 million pounds of explosive material between our Louisiana and Kentucky storage locations,” according to the documents. Yet Louisiana authorities have said the facility there could only hold about 10 million pounds and a Kentucky state official said the company did not have permission to store it in that state.
The plan was for the company to sell the material, not store it, but the M6 appears to have quickly piled up when demand went down because of declines in the coal mining industry.
The evacuation last year wasn’t the first time the company had come under scrutiny.
A series of about 10 explosions at the facility caused an evacuation of Doyline in 2006. In 2007, Explo Systems was cited for violations in West Virginia for its use of an old military explosive for coal mining in 2007.
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