Local News

Apex Marks First Anniversary of Chemical Fire

Posted October 6, 2007
Updated October 7, 2007

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— One year ago, 17,000 Apex residents – more than half the town – evacuated their homes, fearing that a fire at a hazardous-waste facility could release a toxic cloud.

Since then, the state has tightened laws regulating hazardous-waste facilities, and Environmental Quality Industrial Services has paid out more than $200,000 in reimbursements to the town of Apex and its residents.

The leak at the EQ plant on Investment Boulevard sent several large plumes of chlorine gas into the air. A large fire broke out, sending flames more than 100 feet into the sky and setting off multiple explosions. The fire raged for more than a day.

Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly remembered feeling uncertainty in the first hours of the emergency.

"The emergency personnel, the police and fire, and responders from other counties were trying to deal with a situation we couldn’t come to grips with as far as what the chemicals were, what the hazard was posed for our community," Weatherly said.

Apex resident Greg Holder said he won't ever forget the day a potentially toxic cloud hung over him.

“It was really a scary ordeal, because you didn't know what was going to happen next,” Holder said. “I mean, it was like the sun, at sunset; it was just super orange, super bright."

A year later, Holder said he hasn't noticed any long-term effects, but Apex Gymnastics has. The business near the EQ plant was shut down for a month after the fire.

“I did go to great lengths to have the facility tested and hazmat team come in and clean the facility,” Jean Sciacca, owner of Apex Gymnastics, said.

Sciacca said profits from her business are down 30 percent, but she is hopeful Apex Gymnastics will bounce back.

“I have absolutely no plans to move,” Sciacca said.

In March, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources levied a $550,000 fine against EQ and recommended taking away the company's license. But seven months later, EQ still has its license and wants to reopen the Apex facility.

DENR officials said they are carefully considering every possible legal issue involved in revoking EQ's license.

"It has been a year, and we are eagerly awaiting a final resolution to that permit," Weatherly said. "We feel that it would be appropriate to revoke the permit for EQ to do business in North Carolina."

Even if EQ keeps its license, Apex will not let the company rebuild in the town, Weatherly said.

"Our ordinances in Apex had been changed in the year 2000 not to allow hazardous-waste facilities anywhere in our jurisdiction," he said.

When the town ordinances were originally passed, the EQ plant was grandfathered in.

Weatherly praised new state laws that require more oversight of chemical plants and orders hazardous-waste facilities to provide inventories of chemicals stored on-site.

At EQ, firefighting efforts were hampered, because crews did not know what chemicals they could potentially face inside the burning building.

State law then required hazardous waste facilities to give state leaders lists of chemicals they handled but not updated inventories. State agencies were responsible for conducting inspections.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board did not determine a cause of the chemical leak, but said unspent oxygen canisters contributed to the fire's rapid spread.

Weatherly said the biggest lesson he has learned from the experience is to depend on good planning and quick action when dealing with emergencies.

"Our citizens should be reassured that they’re well protected in case of an emergency." he said. "Other municipalities are as well, with the assistance they provided to us during this time of need. We’re thankful for that."

9 Comments

Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • tgcmisc Oct 7, 2007

    The REAL story is NOT about EQ...BUT what the Apex officials have NOT done about the two Potentially MORE explosive sites in town...and Cary should be involved in this. There is a MAJOR fuel terminal (NOT EVEN MANNED with 24/7 Security)...the Drivers drive up...punch in a code....fill their own tankers and drive off.

    The FED DOT has mandated that Industry "check" on Haz Waste Haulers and have an "emergency" plan...but WHAT about the Fuel Terminals?

    OK...how about the Dixie Propane Pipeline on Hwy 55. Publice emergency officials (off the record) have stated that if the storage tank every "went off", that a MOST of APEX would be levelled and that the tank "skin" was NOT bullet proof.

    Time to ASK the City Officials...have YOU asked your OWN personnel about these sites? WHAT IS the POTENTIAL...or was some emergency worker just "hypothesizing" or were they "misinformed"? When you send emails to the city officials asking...they do NOT respond. Maybe WRAL should "ASK"!

  • ObaMcCain Oct 7, 2007

    it's a world of blame. get over it and move on. statistically the town has now had a pseudo "national incident" and (hopefully) statistically something like this won't happen again. what's next - if their is a grease fire in the Taco Bell dumpster on 55 in Apex - are you also gonna call the EPA?

  • Dr Holliday Oct 7, 2007

    My guess is Apex a subdivision of Raleigh would celebrate anything courtesy of wral.

  • happymom Oct 6, 2007

    I don't want them back. Having to leave home in the middle of night once was enough for me and my family.

  • Made In USA Oct 6, 2007

    In addition, during the aftermaths of the fire, I was leaving work...being the last one to leave. When I started out of the parking lot, I noticed a huge cloud in the air and thinking it was a fire on my workplace's property, I drove back to where it was - yes..right through the cloud...only to discover that it was more fumes that had drifted near me. It was not a fire as I though it was. I held my breath as I turned around and headed home. I was kind enough to not call the fire department then as I should have. But hear me now...I WILL CALL ON THE FIRE DEPARTMENT AND THE POLICE DEPARTMENT AND THE EPA IF THERE IS A NEXT TIME. THIS I PROMISE YOU I WILL DO. AND I WILL ALSO SEEK COMPENSATION FOR PERSONAL INJURY TOO. ANOTHER WORDS...ENOUGH IS ENOUGH OF POOR MANAGEMENT AND POOR HANDLING OF DANGEROUS CHEMICALS FROM EQ. You're welcome to come back, but you darn sure better be prepared to pay me for breathing your mess. I won't be nice again like I was before. That's a true fact!

  • Made In USA Oct 6, 2007

    To my EQ neighbors:

    I have worked next to your plant for three years. Every day my co-workers and myself have smelled your chemicals in the air every single work day. There was always something different to breath every single day. I have no idea what you have filled my lungs with, nor do I know what affects it will have to my health down the road. Apparently neither do you, nor does the town of Apex have any idea. But I do know that some days the odor coming from your workplace was almost sickening. This was certainly the case on the days prior to your fire. The fumes during that time was especially strong... a combination of a sweet smell and a insecticide that was quite strong and gave me a nausa feeling. Certainly your employees smelled it, yet noone did anything about it, not even your management. Therefore, I declare your company as incompetent to handle these dangerous chemicals and if you return to Apex, I will be calling the EPA every time your fumes come my way.

  • mrtwinturbo Oct 6, 2007

    Time to move on. Do we as a society have to have a yearly anniversary for everything

    My thoughts exactly, however I celebrate November 19th every year as this is the day I was nearly killed in an auto accident in 1977. This is my anniversary of life.

  • AX Oct 6, 2007

    Time to move on. Do we as a society have to have a yearly anniversary for everything?

  • superman Oct 6, 2007

    So the mayor is admitting again that they were not prepared? They didnt even know the plant was there or what was there. The fire department should have visited the site to see what was there and work with plant officials to have equipment and materials on hand in the event of a fire. Apex enjoyed the tax revenue with the plant and they hid their heads in the sand. No preparation at all. When the builing was burning-- Apex was trying to figure out how to fight the fire and what was stored there. Great job Apex. They were planning how to fight the fire as it was burning to the ground.