Local Politics

Hazardous Waste Rules Get Stricter in N.C.

Posted June 26, 2007 4:52 p.m. EDT
Updated June 26, 2007 8:14 p.m. EDT

— Almost nine months after a hazardous waste operation in Apex burned to the ground, prompting a massive evacuation, the state has adopted tighter restrictions on such companies.

Gov. Mike Easley on Tuesday signed into law House Bill 36. The law requires more oversight of chemical plants and says facilities must provide more information  to people who live near them.

The law is a direct result of the Oct. 5 chemical fire at the Environmental Quality Industrial Services site in Apex. Fearing the fire had released a toxic chemical cloud over the town, officials ordered about 17,000 people to leave their homes.

The fire raged for more than a day before finally burning itself out, when residents were finally allowed return home.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is expected to provide a "critical new finding" and other details from an investigation into the EQ fire at a Wednesday morning news conference.

Firefighters were hindered in responding to the fire because town officials didn't known what chemicals were stored at the site.

"The problems were not as a result of inadequacies of those responding, but rather not enough information. We see that as our fault on the state level," Easley said Tuesday.

The governor appointed a state task force to review the EQ fire and develop recommendations to prevent a similar incident in the future. The new law codified the group's recommendations.

In addition to being monitored more by state environmental regulators, hazardous waste facilities in North Carolina will now be required to share updated information about their chemicals with local and state governments and with nearby residents and business owners. The facilities also must notify neighbors any time they apply for a new permit.

Each waste facility also must provide 24-hour security and surveillance for faster response to emergencies.

"I'm pleased that we can mark this day with the passage of a new law that will improve the health and safety of our citizens," said Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake.

State regulators in March fined EQ more than $500,000 for a series of safety violations and began the process of revoking its operating permit.

EQ officials maintain the state action is based on erroneous information and are fighting to maintain their permit.. The Michigan-based company also is battling Apex officials, who said they would block any effort to rebuild the operation.