Local News

Apex chemical explosion settlement approved

Posted October 6, 2009

— A federal judge on Tuesday approved a settlement agreement to compensate Apex residents who had to leave their homes and businesses in October 2006 after an explosion and fire at a local hazardous waste facility.

When the Environmental Quality Industrial Services facility erupted into a fireball on Oct. 5, 2006, town officials ordered about 17,000 people to evacuate because they feared that toxic chemicals were in the plume of smoke that spread over Apex.

Judge approves EQ settlement Judge approves EQ settlement

Residents sued EQ and some of the companies that sent oxygen canisters to the facility for disposal. Investigators determined that improperly stored canisters caused the rapid spread of the fire throughout the facility.

Some residents claimed health problems from exposure to the smoke from the fire, but environmental tests taken during and after the evacuation showed no harmful effects from the plume.

Under the $7.85 million settlement, EQ and two Alabama-based companies that provided the oxygen canisters agreed to pay up to $750 to each household which evacuated to compensate for the trouble of leaving their home and incidental expenses incurred. Businesses that were forced to close during the evacuation will receive up to $2,200.

The payments will be in addition to earlier payments from EQ to compensate for evacuation expenses.

“I think the message that goes out is, if you are going to be in the business…you got to put safety first,” said attorney Robert Zaytoun, who represents residents and businesses in the lawsuit.

The explosion forced Denise Hatzidakis and his family to leave their Apex home and shut down their Greek restaurant.

“There are going to be situations where there are hazardous chemicals and hazardous things need to be dealt with in our society. And I just think that the people who take responsibility and are paid and we trust to take care of this should be held responsible for doing it properly,” Hatzidakis said.

Residents and business owners have the choice of accepting the settlement or opting out and pursuing their own lawsuits.

Impacted residents and business owners can still join the lawsuit by going to a Web site set up to provide more information about the class action litigation. The deadline to join the suit is Oct. 20.

Senior U.S. District Judge Earl Britt gave preliminary approval to the settlement in July. On Tuesday, Britt reviewed attorney fees, which make up about $3 million of the settlement total.

EQ previously reimbursed the town of Apex more than $200,000 for its costs in responding to the fire and handling the evacuation.

The company also agreed not to reopen the facility to settle a state fine over environmental violations there.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • superman Oct 7, 2009

    Had the fire department known what was stored there-- whey would have known if the smoke was toxic. Guess the next time my neighbors burn leaves and dead limbs I will sue them for smoke problems. Everyone wants something for nothing. They tested the fumes and determined that they were not harmful-- so what else you want?

  • BULLDOZER Oct 6, 2009

    Amen Superman!! The Apex Fire Department should have been able to respond more effectively.

  • superman Oct 6, 2009

    They should have included the city of Apex in their lawsuit. The city fireman scratched their "behinds" while the fire raged because they did not know what was stored in the building or how to fight the fire. They were on the phone and on the computer with the parent company somewhere in another state trying to determine what was stored there. Even after finding out what was there, they probably didnt have what they needed to fight the fire. You can blame the company if you want cause they have a deep pocket-- but the city of Apex was just as much at fault as the company. If you buy a house, it is always smart to know what surrounds your tiny piece of land. They probably paid less than the fair market price cause the house was located near a chemical storage facility. These people ate their cake and had it too. Greedy hungry Americans will bankrupt this country. Bunch of greedy people complaining.

  • KH-Apex-NC Oct 6, 2009

    Having lived in Apex since 1995, Bought the same house in 1998, within 3/10ths of a mile W of the EQ plant. House originally built in 1984; before EnviroChem or EQ! Worked in Apex since 1988 on the same street as the EQ Plant for 17 years, I didn't know they had changed ownership or changed from decontaminating oil laden soil using micro bacteria as the original zoning approval for EnviroChem & had started to manage other hazardous materials behind their hidden fence.

    How many of you received the knock on your door from the Apex Police stating there had been a plant fire and explosion with hazardous chemicals and that we need to evacuate, NOW? This was not offered as a suggestion; looking at the officer wearing a gas mask and seeing the thick smut in the air, smelling the acrid fumes we knew this was serious! We were gone for two days, out of work, school and incurred hotel and personal expenses, not counting potential long term health issues. Our costs are well beyond $750!

  • MillerB Oct 6, 2009

    $3 million in attorney's fees. I'm curious...whose idea was it to sue, the families, or the attorneys?

  • eam Oct 6, 2009

    I live in Apex. People weren't forced to evacuate, I do remember the polices' suv driving down the street suggesting people leave their homes as soon as possible. We were fortunate we had somewhere else to go to without having to pay for a hotel room. We actually hadn't planned on leaving until we started to smell something funny coming from the laundry vent. What frustrates me is that we didn't file a complaint with the police department... why would we? The police hadn't caused it. And the only people who were "entitled" to a settlement of any kind were those who had complained. I believe this has since changed though.

  • fl2nc2ca2md2nc Oct 6, 2009

    It was a long night, I'll tell you that! It was nice fall night, we had all of our windows open!!! I almost went to bed but decided to look at WRAL.com before I did. I saw the headline, "mysterious cloud hangs over downtown Apex." We tuned in the TV and saw what was happening. The kids were already in bed and had to be awakened. You could see the glow of the fire from our house which is just a mile or so away, as we drove out of the neighborhood. We didn't know what we were being exposed to but you could smell it in the air, although the smoke wasn't heavy, it was enough. According to some on this blog, we should have just stayed put I guess, it was no big deal! Hmmmm...whatever... Don't forget we were advised to evacuate and nobody really knew what was in the smoke. I have not received any money to date. There is something wrong with a legal system that rewards the lawyers with such a big percentage of the settlement.

  • edbuck51 Oct 6, 2009

    why were all those homes built that close to an existing plant with those hazardous chemicals? Now all the jobs and revenue that comes with the plant are gone

  • timmytim Oct 6, 2009


    Your user name must refer to where your mouth is attached, since you are clearly talking out of your backside....

    Until any of you have had to live through something like this, I wouldn't be criticizing. What is the loss of use of your property worth for 3 days? I know I wouldn't have moved out for that time and disrupted my family for a lousy $750.

  • dbcooper41 Oct 6, 2009

    what's wrong with you people. the company, and its customers willingly saved money by cutting corners. they took a chance and created an extremely dangerous situation that literally blew up in their face.
    would any of you have willingly subjected your spouse and kids to that poisonous cloud for the amount they are being compensated? if you say yes you should be charged with child abuse.
    sure it seems unfair for lawyer to get such a cut but that's how the game is played. do you think anyone acting without legal help would have received a penny?
    when corporations stop endangering the public in the name of profit the lawyers will be out of work.