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Panel Formed To Tighten Hazardous Waste Rules

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APEX, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley created a state panel Tuesday to examine existing regulations for hazardous waste storage facilities and recommend changes to tighten the rules.

The move came as Apex officials prepared for a town meeting to discuss the future of the Environmental Quality Industrial Services hazardous-waste handling operation.

An Oct. 5 chemical fire at the facility prompted the evacuation of about 17,000 Apex residents after officials feared the fire had released toxic chemicals into the air over nearby subdivisions. No cause for the fire has been determined.

State officials on Tuesday approved the company's plan to clean up the site. There was no word on how long the cleanup might take.

Apex officials are adamant about not allowing EQ to reopen the operation, and the town has hired an environmental consulting firm to monitor local air and water.

Firefighters couldn't battle the EQ fire until the next day because they were unsure of what chemicals were inside. State law requires companies to provide state and local officials with a list of all chemicals that are permitted in their facilities, but it doesn't require them to provide a real-time list of what is on their sites.

"Hazardous waste storage and disposal facilities must be operated safely for the good of the public and the environment," Easley said in a statement. "We cannot allow firefighters to risk their lives by rushing into a facility when they do not know what is stored there. This task force will make sure our emergency responders and the public know where these facilities are located and what is in them."

Steve Grissom, who lives behind the EQ plant, said he appreciates the effort to learn more about hazardous waste facilities.

"If I would have ever known that something like that was back there, I probably would have said, 'Is there not someplace else we could live?'" Grissom said.

"It's good the governor is looking at taking some sort of action," said Jennifer Digeso, another Apex resident. "It's great to see people jump into action and say, 'This happened and this is bad,' so next time it can be better."

The 11-member task force, which also will examine Apex's response to the EQ fire, is expected to report its findings by Dec. 15.

These are the members of the task force:

  • Doug Hoell, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, co-chair
  • Dempsey Benton, chief deputy secretary of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, co-chair
  • Leah Devlin, state health director
  • Win Mabry, Mecklenburg County health director
  • Drexdal Pratt, director of the state Office of Emergency Medical Services
  • Bradley Harvey, head of the Raleigh Regional Response Team
  • Johnny Teeters, chief of the Greensboro Fire Department
  • Marty Zaluski, director of Emergency Programs for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
  • Viney Aneja, North Carolina State University professor of environmental technology
  • David Thompson, executive director of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners
  • S. Ellis Hankins, executive director of the North Carolina League of Municipalities.
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