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State Labor Officials Fine EQ for Apex Violations Before Fire

Posted March 22, 2007

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— The state Department of Labor on Thursday fined EQ Industrial Services $4,900 for safety violations uncovered as the company's Apex facility burned in October and also told the company it appeared not to have followed chemical right-to-know rules about giving town fire officials information on what was in the hazardous-waste transfer station.

The blaze that broke out the night of Oct. 5 put 17,000 residents out of their homes for two nights because town officials did not know what was burning and said they could not take a chance that toxic fumes were being spread across town.

The fine, contained in a citation and notification of penalty, was for two "serious" violations out of four cited.

One of the serious violations was not developing and implementing an employee training program for employees of a company called Aerotek that the state said worked at the facility. The law requires a 24-hour training course, and EQ "did not provide initial training of 24 hours," the citation said.

The second serious violation was not having an evacuation plan for workers, including a written plan for finding out if everyone was accounted for, the state said.

Aerotek is a national staffing company. A manager at the Raleigh office said the company had had "less than 10" laborers working at EQ at the time of the fire. No workers were hurt in the blaze.

The lesser violations, which carried no fine, were not providing a medical evaluation to find out if all employees were in shape to use respirators and not "fit-testing" dust masks that employees had to wear when sweeping in the hazardous-waste facility.

In a letter accompanying the citation, Ron Wells, the district supervisor of the department's Division of Occupational Health a Safety, said an inspector who went to EQ on Oct. 6, the day after the fire broke out and when it was still burning, "became aware that your facility may not have been in compliance with the Hazardous Chemicals Right to Know Act.

The law requires employers who have large quantities of hazardous chemicals to keep a list and "to provide the local fire marshal with a copy of the list and certain emergency contact information," Wells wrote. Apex officials, along with Wake County and state environmental officials, complained the day after the fire that they did not for sure what they were facing.

The law, Wells said, also requires businesses like EQ to create an emergency response plan "at the request of the local fire authority."

March 6, state environmental officials fined EQ $553,225 in connection with violations before the fire.

The state Division of Waste Management said the company did not report incidents involving chemical reactions, fires and waste releases before the Oct. 5 explosion and fire. The state also said it plans to terminate the company’s permit, which would prevent the facility from reopening if the company decides to do that.

The company has not decided whether it will see to reopen the facility. Apex officials have been adamant in opposing any reopening and say that zoning put in place several years ago, but after the facility opened, would not make it illegal in town.


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