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Leaders Hope To Learn From Plant Explosion

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Local and state officials will meet this week about their responses to last week's chemical fire at a hazardous-waste disposal facility and areas in which they could improve.
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    Overall, however, local and state leaders believe the response to the Environmental Quality Industrial Services fire was good. But there are some questions about the regulation of hazardous-waste sites, even though EQ was in complete compliance at its last inspection on Sept. 28 and Sept. 29.

    The North Carolina Division of Waste Management, which monitors hazardous waste sites, like EQ, said the companies are aggressively inspected four times each month.

    "We go above and beyond federal mandates," said Waste Management spokeswoman Cathy Akroyd.

    One possible concern is that there were no employees or security guards on site the night of the fire. By law, company officials said they are not required to have the facility manned 24 hours a day.

    Employees typically show up around 6 a.m. and leave by 8 p.m.

    "We meet the security requirements of our permit, which in this case is a 6-foot high chain length fence with barbed wire," said Scott Maris, vice president of Regulatory Affairs for Environmental Quality.

    Maris also said the building is completely locked down after hours.

    A source of confusion was the actual chemicals on site at the time of the fire. The state knows what the company is permitted to have, but the actual list at any given time is only available at the company itself, in paper form.

    A computer backup did not exist, so even company officials could not say what caught fire until they were able to get inside the building days later.

    When asked if that issue could be a possible topic of discussion, Akroyd said it could certainly be addressed.

    "There are better ways to do things," she said. "That's always something healthy to address."

    "I think anytime you go through an event like this you always evaluate and say what can we do better," said Wake County Environmental Services Director Rick Rowe.

    Rowe said the county has already pinpointed areas to improve.

    "I know, from our standpoint, we need better communication between the county and the state," he said.

    Rowe also said he was not notified of a $32,000 citation at EQ back in March for six violations. The state showed WRAL a letter addressed to the Wake Health Department Director, but Rowe said that since it wasn't addressed to a specific person it could have ended up anywhere.

    The March citation said the company failed to "maintain and operate the facility to minimize the possibility of a sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous waste ... which could threaten human health or the environment."

    The fine was almost twice as much as any other assessed against a hazardous waste facility this year in North Carolina.

    Last year, a similar fire at one of the company's plants in suburban Detroit drove about 2,000 people from their homes and sent at least 32 people for treatment at hospitals.


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