An explosion ripped through the Verla International Ltd. cosmetics factory in New Windsor, N.Y., around 10:15 a.m. on Nov. 20, injuring approximately 25-30 employees and killing one. Workers fled the building and local emergency responders arrived on scene and were inside the building at 10:40 a.m. when a second explosion occurred, injuring seven firefighters, at least two of whom were transferred to the burn unit at Westchester Medical Center, according to authorities.
Firefighters and hazmat teams continued to battle the fire – which was fueled by flammable and combustible chemicals used in the manufacture of perfume, nail polish, lotion and other beauty products – throughout the day and into the night.
"A deceased male employee was recovered from the plant fire at approximately 7:40 p.m.," Orange County spokesman Justin Rodriguez said in a statement. The worker has not been identified by authorities and the company cannot be reached for comment.
The facility has been cited three times by OSHA since 2012:
- In 2012, Verla was issued six citations, five serious and one classified as “other.” The citations included violations related to general requirements for personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, control of hazardous energy, electrical and wiring and hazard communication. The company was issued $13,600 in fines.
- In 2013, the company reached an informal settlement with OSHA for two serious, one repeat and one “other” violation. The violations were related to the storage of flammable and combustible liquids, respiratory protection and sanitation. The company was issued $7,700 in fines, which was negotiated down to $5,775.
- In 2016, Verla International was cited for nine occupational safety violations earlier this year; six classified as serious and three as “other.” The serious violations are related to exit routes, flammable and combustible liquids, eye and face protection, respiratory protection and first aid. The “other” violations are related to PPE, respiratory protection and hazard communication. The company has reached an information settlement with OSHA, negotiating $63,148 in penalties down to $41,046, but the inspection has not been classified as “closed” on the OSHA web site.
NY Governor Announces Investigation into Explosion
N.Y. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has launched a multi-agency investigation into working conditions at Verla International. The investigation follows the state’s response to the chemical explosion and fire at the company, and will examine worker safety, conditions and compliance with state environmental regulations at the plant. Cuomo has directed the Department of Labor, Department of State and Department of Environmental Conservation to lead this investigation into overall compliance at Verla International.
“Ensuring the safety and welfare of New Yorkers in the workplace is critically important, and following today’s chemical explosion, I am directing a multi-agency investigation to get to the bottom of what happened and review compliance with state labor and environmental laws,” Cuomo said. “Worker safety and environmental protection are top priorities and if there was any misconduct or negligence that led to this incident, we will use the full force of the law to hold the company accountable.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will investigate facility operations, including chemical storage and use practices, to ensure that there are no environmental violations that led to the explosions and fire at the facility. In particular, DEC investigators will inspect the facility to ensure it is in compliance with all applicable state and federal environmental regulations, including hazardous waste management methods of waste collection, storage and disposal; the existence of emergency preparedness plans, response equipment and communication devices; and the proper training of facility staff involved in hazardous waste management. DEC also has deployed air monitoring equipment to evaluate conditions in the area and will continue to monitor water quality impacts from the fire.
“DEC takes seriously our responsibility to ensure that all companies are complying with appropriate regulations for chemical and hazardous waste management,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Investigators from DEC will leave no stone unturned to figure out what happened and work to ensure that incidents like this do not occur again.”
The Department of State Division of Building Standards and Codes will review code compliance activity at the plant and has offered the town of New Windsor assistance in assessing the overall condition of the building and providing any technical support in determining if code violations contributed to the cause or the spread of the fire.
“The Department of State works tirelessly with code enforcement offices throughout the state to make sure buildings are safe for occupancy by residents and workers,” said N.Y. Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “The Department of State Division of Building Standards and Codes will be assisting town of Windsor officials in determining whether code violations played a part in this tragic incident.”
The N.Y. Department of Labor (DOL) will dispatch worker safety and health experts to the facility to determine if any asbestos is present on-site or a malfunction in any of the plant’s three boilers contributed to the incident. Additionally, the department will coordinate with OSHA to interview workers and assist with any OSHA investigation.
“Today’s fire in New Windsor underscores the importance of rigorous worker health and safety standards,” said DOL Commissioner Roberta Reardon. “At Gov. Cuomo’s direction, the Department of Labor’s Division of Safety and Health will be dispatching investigators to the site in order to help determine if any negligence on the part of the company played a role in this incident. The department will also be looking closely into any possible asbestos or boiler issues that may have contributed to the severity of the explosion and subsequent fire.”