Safety Board: N.C. Waste Plant Fire Started Near Chlorine

October 31, 2006

The hazardous waste storage plant fire that led to the evacuation of thousands of residents this month in Apex, N.C. started in an area where chemicals such as pool chlorination tablets were stored, investigators said.

An initial review determined that first responders found a small fire that quickly spread to an adjacent bay containing highly flammable solvents, according to a statement by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. A chemical cloud was seen above that area before the fire was detected the night of Oct. 5, according to the agency’s statement.

The board plans a fuller review that will take up to a year and likely will include new safety recommendations.

A lack of physical evidence surviving the blaze at the EQ Industrial Services Inc. plant means the source of the chemical cloud likely won’t be found, the agency said. However, witness accounts are consistent with an uncontrolled reaction involving incompatible chemicals, it said.

The fire quickly grew out of control, lighting up the sky with explosions and blanketing parts of the town in a yellow-green haze. Town officials urged as many as 17,000 people to evacuate because of the potential for toxic fumes and a few dozen people sought medical attention.

Residents who left weren’t allowed to return home until the blaze was extinguished two days later.

Gov. Mike Easley has put together a task force of state and local officials to study existing regulations for hazardous waste storage centers and recommend changes.

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