Local News

Cleanup Of Apex EQ Site Resumes

Posted October 20, 2006 7:50 a.m. EDT

— Crews began cleaning up a hazardous waste site in Apex Friday after a small fire temporarily had halted the effort.

State officials shut down the Environmental Quality Industrial Services site Wednesday after rainwater ignited with material in a 55-gallon drum at the facility. An Oct. 5 chemical fire at the site led to the evacuation of about 17,000 Apex residents.

Environment and health officials also said Friday that the state will conduct outdoor and indoor environmental testing near the EQ facility. They will test water, soil and indoor surfaces for heavy metals and other signs of contamination from the Oct. 5 fire.

"We want to make sure that there aren't harmful levels, and if there are, then we can figure out what kind of actions to take next as far as cleaning that up," said Tom Mather, spokesman for the state Division of Air Quality.

Extensive testing that state inspectors and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted during and immediately after the fire focused on any short-term problems that would prevent people from re-entering the area. The new round of tests will focus on any residual chemicals in the area that might have long-term impacts.

"Ideally, it would have been better to get it out sooner, but we haven't ever done this type of testing," Mather said.

After state officials initially said they couldn't conduct the tests because of budget concerns, Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly wrote to Gov. Mike Easley on Wednesday to demand the tests.

"Very frankly, (the state's response) was not going to be an acceptable answer, and that's why I wrote the governor personally and asked him to intervene," Weatherly said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Rresources will be responsible for environmental sampling around homes. DENR's Division of Air Quality began enlisting volunteers Thursday in a plan to take exterior wipe samples from about 30 locations. Some of the buildings will be in the area close to EQ that is most likely to have been affected by the fire. Others will be in areas well away from EQ and will be used to determine background levels of contaminants that could be in the area but are unrelated to the fire.

Although none of the air-quality samples collected so far have detected harmful levels of contaminants, the wipe samples will be used as a screening tool to determine whether deposition is a concern. Contaminants for which the state will test include metals, total cyanides and organic compounds that are somewhat volatile.

DENR's Division of Waste Management will collect surface-soil samples from the locations identified by DAQ. Samples will be analyzed for volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, PCBs and several inorganic compounds, including beryllium, manganese and cyanide.

The Division of Public Health will sample inside the same homes. Indoor sampling will consist of wiping horizontal surfaces and testing those wipes for contaminants that could indicate exposure to the fire. Only surfaces that have not been cleaned since the fire will be tested.

State officials said they hope to complete the testing and analysis within two weeks.

"We are committed to ensuring that people near the EQ facility are safe and healthy," Deputy State Health Director Steve Cline said in a statement. "People living and working in the area have concerns, and these additional tests will address those concerns."