May 20, 2018
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EPA settles with owners of Mass. chemical plant

By STEVE LeBLANC, Associated Press

BOSTON — The owners of a suburban chemical plant that exploded in 2006, destroying dozens of homes, have agreed to pay the federal government an estimated $1.3 million to help cover the cost of cleaning up the hazardous waste that was left behind.

The Environmental Protection Agency said a consent decree unveiled Monday requires the companies to pay for some of the $2.7 million spent by the agency to clean up the site after the explosion in Danvers, a town about 25 miles north-northeast of Boston.

The EPA said the action resolves claims against former operator CAI Inc. and property owners Sartorelli Realty LLC and Roy Nelson, of the Nelson Danvers Realty Trust.

The EPA also announced that CAI will pay $100,000 to settle allegations that conditions at the facility violated the federal Clean Air Act. The $1.3 million includes cash and the net proceeds from the sale of the property, assuming the property sells for its appraised value, the agency said.

A series of explosions at the ink and paint factory shared by CAI and Arnel Co. Inc. on Nov. 22, 2006, damaged 270 local homes and businesses. No one was killed or seriously injured.

A separate consent decree was reached with Arnel in July.

A lawyer for Nelson Danvers Realty Trust, John Cavanaugh, said there are no other pending lawsuits against the company, which owned half the property and rented to Arnel. Sartorelli Realty owned the other half of the property and rented to CAI.

Lawyers representing CAI and Sartorelli Realty did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press requesting comment Monday.

The regional administrator of EPA’s New England office, Curt Spalding, said the extent of the damage in the explosions shows the importance of following basic chemical safety practices.

“Companies that fail to comply with laws that protect public health and our environment will be held accountable,” Spalding said in a statement.

The explosions happened the night before Thanksgiving, ripping through the facility. The explosions and fire fed on large quantities of the flammable substances used in the manufacturing of the inks, paints, thinners and industrial coatings.

The blasts forced an estimated 300 residents within a half-mile radius of the facility to evacuate their homes. Firefighters battled the blaze for nearly 17 hours.

For the next four months, the EPA removed hazardous substances released into the environment by the blasts.

Agency officials said they fenced off the site, took air samples, drained vats and underground storage tanks, removed drums of chemicals, pumped off storm water runoff and removed soil, debris and scrap steel.

EPA investigators said CAI violated parts of the federal Clean Air Act, including by failing to identify the hazards of operating an ink mixing process overnight without proper ventilation.

The facility also had a lack of appropriate ventilation, vapor detectors and alarms to detect buildup of dangerous vapors while workers weren’t present, automatic shut-off valves that could shut down processes without human intervention and proper fire permits and explosion venting construction.

The $100,000 fine levied against CAI will settle the allegations, the EPA said.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

A report released by the state fire marshal’s office in 2008 concluded the facility was storing at least twice the combustible substances it was permitted to keep at the time. The facility was licensed by the town to store 12,000 gallons of flammable chemicals but had about 24,000 gallons on site.

Most of a $7 million settlement between homeowners and CAI and Arnel in 2009 went to insurance companies that had already paid claims to insured policy holders. Homeowners then split up $900,000 set aside under the settlement for uninsured losses.

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