Washington, DC, October 12, 2006 - An investigation team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has wrapped up the first phase of its investigation into the fire and explosions which occurred at an EQ North Carolina facility in Apex, NC, the night of October 5, 2006.
During the incident at the hazardous waste facility located near Raleigh, officials called for the evacuation of some 16,000 residents. In the end, approximately 5,000 fled their homes. Several dozen people, including policemen and one firefighter responding to the accident, were taken to a hospital for observation or treatment and released.
In a briefing held at the Apex City Hall today, CSB Lead Investigator Robert Hall said his team has completed its examination of the accident site and completed requested interviews with EQ employees. Other EQ employees may be interviewed at a later date. Mr. Hall said the company is cooperating in the investigation and is expected to produce numerous documents requested by the team, including data on chemical inventories, operations, training, facility design, and past accidents.
The team will examine the frequency and quality of worker training, and federal, state, and local regulatory requirements and whether they have been followed.
Mr. Hall added that his team has interviewed local residents affected by the explosions and fire, as well as public officials including the mayor, fire and police chiefs, and city council members. Mr. Hall praised the town for its "outstanding cooperation" in the CSB investigation, and commended the "very good work" done by firefighters and police in responding to the accident.
Following the late morning briefing, the team returned to Washington, DC, where Mr. Hall said work would continue in analyzing documents and reviewing interview testimony records. He said a decision on whether the agency will conduct a full investigation would be made within two to three weeks. Investigator Hall said the team intends to research the frequency of such incidents in the hazardous waste industry nationwide. The current assessment will proceed with the same effort as a full investigation, pending a decision by the Board on the scope of inquiry, Mr. Hall said.
Mr. Hall described the scene of the accident as "a pile of charred debris." There is "not much left" on the site, he said. In the later stages of the fire, industrial firefighters hired by the company brought in heavy equipment to move parts of the building to enter the site because the roof had collapsed. Mr. Hall said that because the overall damage is so extensive, "The cause of the fire may never be known." However, the CSB team will analyze chemical inventory records to determine what materials were involved.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems, regulations, and industry standards.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact:
Sandy Gilmour 202-261-7614 or cell 202-251-5496; Public Affairs Specialist Jennifer Jones 202-261-3603, or cell 202-577-8448, or Director of Public Affairs Dr. Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613, cell 202-441-6074.