Local News

EQ Won't Rebuild in Apex

Posted October 15, 2007 1:52 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2007 8:33 p.m. EDT

— The hazardous waste company whose Apex site exploded in a fireball a year ago, forcing the evacuation of about half the town, agreed Monday not to rebuild in order to settle a dispute with state regulators.

Environmental Quality Industrial Services agreed to pay more than $400,000 in penalties, fees and reimbursements to the state. The state Division of Waste Management levied a record $553,225 fine against the company in March, citing previous violations of the company's hazardous waste permit at the Apex site, including unreported fires and chemical leaks.

State regulators had sought to terminate EQ's permit, and Apex officials vowed to fight any effort by the company to rebuild. EQ chose to surrender its permit for the Apex site to settle the state's claims against the company.

"(We're) certainly relieved and gratified. It's been a long year," Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said. "(State regulators) didn't think it was appropriate for EQ to operate in our community and certainly wanted town officials to do everything we could do to make that possible."

It's unclear what EQ will do with the site, which it owns.

“We are pleased that we were able to reach a negotiated and mutually agreed upon settlement with (the state),” EQ Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Scott Maris said in a statement. “Now that this matter is resolved, we can all move on.”

EQ would have to submit to a rigorous permit application process to open another hazardous waste site in the state, officials said, adding that the company's compliance history would be an important factor in making a decision about the permit.

“(This) announcement responds to the concerns of Apex residents that operations of the EQ permitted hazardous waste facility not continue at the site,” Dexter Matthews, director of the Division of Waste Management, said in a statement. “This announcement should also assure citizens of the state that hazardous waste management permits will only be issued or continued for owners and operators that manage their facilities in a manner protective of human health and the environment.”

The Apex facility erupted in flames on Oct. 5, 2006, sending a plume of smoke across town. Fearing that toxic chemicals were in the plume, town officials called for about 17,000 nearby residents to evacuate their homes.

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

In response to the fire, state lawmakers adopted stiffer rules for hazardous waste operators.

The regulations, which went into effect this month, call for more state oversight of such facilities. Also, companies are required to provide local officials and neighbors with updated information about the materials stored on site and to have 24-hour security and surveillance to respond to after-hours emergencies more quickly.

Because the EQ facility was destroyed, authorities haven't been able to pinpoint the cause of the fire, but they have said improperly labeled oxygen canisters helped spread the fire, which they believe was sparked by wrongly stored chemicals.

All hazardous wastes were removed from the facility in the weeks following the fire and were properly disposed of off-site.

EQ last month reimbursed Apex for more than $200,000 spent in fighting the fire and in the evacuation. Many residents also were repaid for expenses they incurred in the incident, although some have said the company still owes them money.

A class-action suit that a group of Apex residents filed against EQ is pending.