Local News

State Fines EQ, Seeks to Revoke Permit

Posted March 6, 2007 2:56 p.m. EST
Updated March 6, 2007 5:15 p.m. EST

— State regulators on Tuesday levied a $553,225 fine against a hazardous waste handler that owns the site of a massive Apex chemical fire and recommended that the company's permit be terminated.

The state Division of Waste Management cited Environmental Quality Industrial Services for violations of the state Solid Waste Management Act and the Hazardous Waste Management Rules.

EQ's Apex facility erupted in flames on Oct. 5, sending a plume of smoke across town. Officials called for the evacuation of about 17,000 Apex residents, fearing that toxic chemicals were in the plume.

Residents were allowed to return home a day later -- after the fire had burned itself out -- and subsequent state tests showed no immediate or long-term health threats.

Because the EQ facility was destroyed, authorities haven't been able to pinpont the cause of the fire, but they have said they believe chemicals were improperly stored at the site.

The compliance order issued by the state determined EQ didn't comply with permit conditions associated with general facility standards, preparedness and prevention, contingency plan and emergency procedures and recordkeeping and reporting.

The order also stated that EQ didn't report to state regulators incidents involving chemical reactions, fires and waste releases that occurred at the Apex site before the fire.

The fine is among the largest handed out by the state in recent years. EQ was fined $32,000 a year ago for several violations.

“Our actions send a clear message that the state of North Carolina will not tolerate non-compliance with rules and non-reporting of incidents that occur at commercial hazardous waste facilities across the state,” Division of Waste Management Director Dexter Matthews said in a statement.

EQ officials have said that they want to rebuild in Apex, but town leaders have said they would try to block any such moves.

Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said he was "relieved and gratified" by the state's action.

"We have strongly advocated this course of action all along, and the facts uncovered in the state's investigation bear out that this dangerous facility must be removed from our community," Weatherly said in a statement.

The company has 60 days to contest the fine.

“We are surprised that (the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has elected to move forward with its effort to terminate our hazardous waste permit despite the fact their own data shows no environmental impact,” EQ Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Scott Maris said in a statement.

The state also has issued its intent to terminate EQ's state permit, which would force the facility to remain closed.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 12 at Apex Town Hall. People also can file comments with the state on the proposal until April 23.

EQ is reviewing the state's permit termination notice but hasn't decided how to proceed, Maris said.