The owners and former operator of a Massachusetts paint and ink manufacturing plant have reached a $1.4 million federal settlement in a massive explosion and fire that destroyed dozens of homes and businesses in 2006.
Under a consent decree lodged Monday (Aug.15) by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, the owners and operator of the Danvers, MA, facility will pay a projected $1.3 million, including cash and the net proceeds from sale of the property, assuming it sells for appraised value.
The facility was shared by now-defunct paint manufacturer Arnel Co. Inc. and coating and ink manufacturer C.A.I. Inc. (C.A.I. now manufactures inks only.)
US Chemical Safety Board
|The 2006 C.A.I./Arnel explosion destroyed the manufacturing facility, 24 houses and six businesses, and damaged an additional 70 houses.|
Most of the settlement money will go toward reimbursing EPA for the $2.7 million it spent to clean up hazardous waste after the 10-alarm blaze and explosion, which was felt up to 20 miles away.
In addition, C.A.I. will pay EPA a $100,000 penalty to settle allegations that conditions at the facility violated the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act.
On June 30, Arnel signed a separate federal-court consent decree in the case, agreeing to pay a total of $15,000: $11,250 in reimbursement of the EPA response costs and a $3,750 Clean Air Act civil penalty. Arnel admitted no liability for the case.
EPA said the settlement of both cases reflected demonstration of “limited financial resources” by the companies.
Series of Explosions
The case stemmed from a series of explosions and huge chemical blaze that rocked the industrial building about 2:30 a.m. Nov. 22, 2006.
The blasts demolished the manufacturing facility, where “considerable quantities” of ignitable and flammable substances were stored and used to make solvent-based ink, paint, thinners and industrial coatings, according to EPA.
Firefighters evacuated about 300 area residents and worked 17 hours to contain the blaze, which ultimately destroyed the 12,000-square-foot building and caused major structural and property damage to the community.
About 24 homes and six businesses were severely damaged by the blast wave and subsequently demolished; an additional 70 homes were damaged. Several people were injured and hospitalized, but no one died.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board traced the explosion to solvent vapors that ignited. In a 105-page report and video released in May 2008, CSB said C.A.I. had lacked alarms, automatic shutoffs and other safeguards that would have prevented a 10,000-pound mixture of flammable solvents from overheating in the unattended building.
“Steam heat to the mixing tank was most likely inadvertently left on by an operator before he left for the day,” the board concluded. “As the temperature increased, vapor escaped from the mixing tank, built up in the unventilated building, ignited and exploded.”
The heating was controlled by a single, manual valve that needed to be closed by an operator to prevent the 3,000-gallon tank from overheating.
The building ventilation system was turned off at the end of the workday—a routine procedure—and vapor coming out of the unsealed tank spread throughout the production area and then ignited from an undetermined source, possibly a spark from an electrical device.
"The community damage was the worst we have seen in the 10-year history of the Chemical Safety Board," board member William Wright said at the time.
EPA spent five months removing hazardous substances released, or at risk of release, in the explosion. The agency fenced off the site; took air samples; drained vats, totes and underground storage tanks; removed drums of chemicals; pumped off stormwater runoff; and removed soil, debris and scrap steel.
EPA’s probe cited, among other things:
• Failure to identify the hazards of operating an ink mixing process overnight without proper ventilation;
• Lack of vapor detectors and alarms to detect buildup of dangerous vapors while workers were not present;
• Lack of automatic shut-off valves that could shut down processes if human operators forgot to do so;
• Failure to have the proper fire permits, and
• Lack of explosion venting construction.
“This case demonstrates that a failure to implement basic safety mechanisms and follow obligations under the law can have dire consequences,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “The extent of damage from this explosion shows why it is so important that facilities follow basic chemical safety practices.”
Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General, said the settlement “underscores the importance of industry’s compliance with the law to ensure the protection of human health and the environment for the benefit of the American people.”
The decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.