Cause of Apex fire may never be known

Wade Rawlins, The News & Observer, October15, 2006
apexburntbarrels.jpg
Burned barrels are left at the plant.
Staff Photo by Ethan Hyman
The lead investigator with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said today the exact cause of the explosive fire a week ago at the Environmental Quality Co.’s chemical waste facility in Apex may never be known.
“The evidence is extensively destroyed,” said Robert Hall, lead investigator. “We basically have a pile of ash and burned-out barrels.”
The four-member team from the CSB is wrapping up its on-scene assessment and will return to Washington, D.C., to continue sifting through documents. Hall said the agency had requested an extensive list of documents from the company.
He said the company was cooperating and expected to produce the documents within two to three days.
Among the files the CSB requested were operating manuals, emergency plans and training records.
“We want to make sure employees were adequately trained for the job they were doing,” Hall said. He said employees were supposed to complete 40-hour training courses. “That is one of the areas we are very concerned with.”
Hall said the agency had interviewed employees but he declined to disclose what the workers said.
The board will decide whether to expand its assessment into a full investigation within two to three weeks. A full investigation of the incident could take up to a year, he said.
The CSB, an independent federal agency, investigates chemical accidents and makes recommendations to industry and government to prevent them. The state is also investigating, through the Division of Waste Management in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Staff writer Wade Rawlins can be reached at (919) 829-4528 or wrawlins@newsobserver.com.

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