Local News

Settlement checks for Apex chemical explosion lost in mail

Posted March 2, 2010 11:53 a.m. EST
Updated March 3, 2010 10:24 a.m. EST

— The checks are in the mail, but no one can find them.

Settlement checks for hundreds of Apex residents who had to leave their homes and businesses in October 2006 after an explosion and fire at a local hazardous waste facility are missing, an attorney for the residents said Tuesday.

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.

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

Under a in the case, EQ and two Alabama-based companies agreed to pay 1,678 residents and business owners to compensate for the trouble of leaving their homes and for lost business.

Each household in the settlement was to receive up to $750, while each business would receive up to $2,200.

Jesse Shapiro, an attorney representing residents in the case, said settlement checks were issued on Feb. 16, but fewer than 200 people have received their money. The U.S. Postal Service cannot locate the 1,496 checks that were to be delivered to the 27502 ZIP code, he said.

Carl Walton, a Postal Service spokesman, called the missing checks a mystery and said it was "an unusual occurrence." He apologized for the delay and said postal workers would continue to search for the checks.

Shapiro said the court-appointed settlement administrator was printing new checks Tuesday for expedited delivery this week. The missing checks will be canceled, he said.

If the original checks are found after the new checks are issued, Walton said, the originals wouldn't be sent out.

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.