WASHINGTON – The United States has reached agreement with the owners and a former operator of an inks and paint products manufacturing facility in Danvers, Mass., that exploded and burned in 2006 the day before Thanksgiving.
Under a consent decree lodged today by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the owners and operator will pay the U.S. Government a projected $1.3 million, including cash and the net proceeds from sale of the facility property, assuming the property sells for its appraised value. Most of that recovery will go to reimburse EPA for its $2.7 million in costs of cleaning up hazardous waste after the explosion.
In addition, operator C.A.I. Inc. will pay EPA a penalty of $100,000 to settle allegations that conditions at the facility violated the General Duty Clause in Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. Today's consent decree resolves claims in a complaint against former operator C.A.I. and owners Sartorelli Realty LLC and Roy A. Nelson as Trustee of the Nelson Danvers Realty Trust. A separate consent decree with former operator Arnel Company Inc. was entered by the court in July 2011. The settlement amounts in both consent decrees were based on demonstrations by the settling defendants of limited financial resources.
“Failure to adhere to the Clean Air Act’s general duty obligations can lead to serious, potentially deadly accidents and harm to the environment,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s settlement underscores the importance of industry’s compliance with the law to ensure the protection of human health and the environment for the benefit of the American people.”
“This case demonstrates that a failure to implement basic safety mechanisms and follow obligations under the law can have dire consequences,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “The extent of damage from this explosion shows why it is so important that facilities follow basic chemical safety practices. Companies that fail to comply with laws that protect public health and our environment will be held accountable.”
EPA’s cleanup action and investigation were undertaken as a result of the explosion and chemical fire that occurred on Nov. 22, 2006, at the C.A.I. and Arnel industrial building in Danvers. On the night before Thanksgiving, a series of explosions demolished the manufacturing facility. C.A.I. and Arnel stored and used considerable quantities of ignitable and flammable substances in their manufacturing of solvent-based ink, paint, thinners and/or industrial coatings.
The explosion and subsequent fire destroyed the 12,000 square foot building, and the surrounding commercial and residential community experienced significant structural and property damage from the blast. Approximately 24 homes and six businesses were severely damaged and subsequently demolished; another 70 homes were damaged. An estimated 300 residents within a half-mile radius of the facility were evacuated by the Danvers fire department. Firefighting efforts lasted nearly 17 hours. While several people were injured and hospitalized, no fatalities occurred.
From Nov. 2006 to March 2007, EPA performed a removal of hazardous substances released or threatened to be released to the environment as a result of the explosion. EPA fenced off the site, took air samples, drained vats, totes and underground storage tanks, removed drums of chemicals, pumped off stormwater runoff, and removed soil, debris and scrap steel.
After the incident, EPA, in close coordination with other federal and state agencies, investigated the facility operators’ compliance with various federal laws, including the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act. Under the agreement, operator C.A.I. will pay EPA a penalty of $100,000 to settle EPA allegations that the following conditions at the facility, among others, contributed to the General Duty Clause violations: failure to identify the hazards of operating an ink mixing process overnight without proper ventilation; lack of appropriate ventilation, lack of vapor detectors and alarms to detect buildup of dangerous vapors while workers were not present, lack of automatic shut-off valves that could shut down processes if human operators forgot to do so, failure to have the proper fire permits, and lack of explosion venting construction.
C.A.I.’s penalty also resolved a claim under Section 114(a) of the Clean Air Act for failure to respond to an EPA request for information related to the company’s handling of extremely hazardous substances.
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 copy of the consent decree will be available on the Justice Department website at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html .
The General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act: www.epa.gov/osweroe1/docs/chem/gdc-fact.pdf .