State News

$7.5 million settlement offered in Apex plant fire

Posted October 29, 2008 6:47 a.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2008 12:53 a.m. EDT

— A $7.5 million settlement has been proposed for Apex residents who evacuated homes and businesses when a chemical waste depot exploded on the night of Oct. 5, 2006.

Attorneys for the residents and Environmental Quality Industrial Services outlined the settlement in federal court in Raleigh on Tuesday.

Each household that evacuated and filed a claim would be paid about $720, minus any money EQ had already paid them for evacuation expenses.

Businesses would receive a maximum of $2,000 if they could prove economic loss.

Attorneys for the residents said about 4,200 households and 450 businesses would be eligible.

Residents and firms can opt out of the settlement to pursue their own claims, attorneys said. The settlement also doesn't cover any claims for personal injury from the incident.

U.S. Magistrate James Gates did not rule on the settlement Tuesday.

An explosion and rapidly spreading fire at the EQ plant created a plume that Apex officials feared contained toxic chemicals, so they ordered 17,000 residents – more than half the town – to leave their homes.

“You could just see lights and it was just bright yellows and oranges,” Apex resident Tara Wilder said of the explosion.

Wilder says she remembers the explosion rocking the pictures inside her home.

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, that is a mile from my house,'” she said.

The fire burned itself out the following day, and residents were allowed to return to their homes two days after the explosion.

No one was seriously hurt in the incident, although 30 people, including 13 first responders, had to seek medical attention.

"It caused a lot of anxiety to a lot of people,” attorney Robert Zaytoun said.

Federal investigators say mislabeled oxygen generators at EQ, which collected hazardous materials from businesses and repackaged them for disposal elsewhere, probably fueled the fire.

Apex has changed its zoning to prevent EQ from reopening a facility, and the state adopted tighter safety and reporting regulations for hazardous waste facilities.

"The things that happened that night are totally unacceptable,” Apex resident Randy Wilder said.

EQ settled complaint with state regulators by agreeing to pay more than $400,000 in penalties, fees and reimbursements to the state.