North Carolina: Chemical Cloud Prompts Evacuation

A series of blasts and fire at a hazardous materials plant in Apex, N.C., created a pungent chemical cloud and prompted a state of emergency declaration and the evacuation of an estimated 17,000 residents in the Raleigh suburb.

The blasts occurred Thursday night at a hazardous waste facility operated by Wayne, Mich.-based Environmental Quality Co. in Apex. The plant was empty at the time of the blasts, and no serious injuries have been reported, according to media reports.

A chemical cloud caused by the incident prompted authorities to evacuate about half of Apex's 32,000 residents, according to reports, and several roads have been closed.

The Environmental Quality Co. is a consolidator and processor of hazardous waste that operates approximately 14 facilities in the United States, including a facility in Romulus, Mich., that experienced a major explosion and fire that also prompted an evacuation. (For more, read "No Injuries Reported After Explosions Rock Detroit-Area Chemical Plant.")

The Apex facility, according to Environmental Quality Co.'s Web site, "can bulk and store your universal and drummed wastes to create full loads that reduce unit transportation costs."

The facility on March 31 was fined $32,000 for a number of safety violations, including failing to "maintain and operate the facility to minimize the possibility of a sudden or nonsudden release of hazardous waste constituents to air, soil or surface water [that] could threaten human health or the environment," according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources' Division of Waste Management.

CSB Investigators Will Arrive Tonight

Officials from the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) will travel to Apex this evening to begin their assessment of the incident.

The CSB team will be led by investigator Robert Hall, PE, and will be accompanied by CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt and Board Member William Wark, an expert in emergency management. Team members will begin their investigative work on Saturday, according to the agency.

The investigators will collect information that will assist the board in deciding whether to conduct a full investigation of the causes of the incident, the agency said.

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