Local News

Apex chemical explosion settlement approved

Posted October 6, 2009 10:17 a.m. EDT
Updated October 6, 2009 4:02 p.m. EDT

— A federal judge on Tuesday approved a settlement agreement to compensate Apex residents who had to leave their homes and businesses in October 2006 after an explosion and fire at a local hazardous waste facility.

When the Environmental Quality Industrial Services facility erupted into a fireball on Oct. 5, 2006, town officials ordered about 17,000 people to evacuate because they feared that toxic chemicals were in the plume of smoke that spread over Apex.

Residents sued EQ and some of the companies that sent oxygen canisters to the facility for disposal. Investigators determined that improperly stored canisters caused the rapid spread of the fire throughout the facility.

Some residents claimed health problems from exposure to the smoke from the fire, but environmental tests taken during and after the evacuation showed no harmful effects from the plume.

Under the , EQ and two Alabama-based companies that provided the oxygen canisters agreed to pay up to $750 to each household which evacuated to compensate for the trouble of leaving their home and incidental expenses incurred. Businesses that were forced to close during the evacuation will receive up to $2,200.

The payments will be in addition to earlier payments from EQ to compensate for evacuation expenses.

“I think the message that goes out is, if you are going to be in the business…you got to put safety first,” said attorney Robert Zaytoun, who represents residents and businesses in the lawsuit.

The explosion forced Denise Hatzidakis and his family to leave their Apex home and shut down their Greek restaurant.

“There are going to be situations where there are hazardous chemicals and hazardous things need to be dealt with in our society. And I just think that the people who take responsibility and are paid and we trust to take care of this should be held responsible for doing it properly,” Hatzidakis said.

Residents and business owners have the choice of accepting the settlement or opting out and pursuing their own lawsuits.

Impacted residents and business owners can still join the lawsuit by going to a Web site set up to provide more information about the class action litigation. The deadline to join the suit is Oct. 20.

Senior U.S. District Judge Earl Britt gave preliminary approval to the settlement in July. On Tuesday, Britt reviewed attorney fees, which make up about $3 million of the settlement total.

EQ previously reimbursed the town of Apex more than $200,000 for its costs in responding to the fire and handling the evacuation.

The company also agreed not to reopen the facility to settle a state fine over environmental violations there.