United States Amends Complaint on 2006 Explosion at Massachusetts Plant
The United States has filed an action in U.S. District Court against the operators and owners of an inks and paint products manufacturing facility in Danversport, Mass., that exploded and burned the day before Thanksgiving, 2006. On July 19, 2010, the United States amended a complaint that was filed in March of this year.
The civil action against operators C.A.I. Inc., Arnel Company Inc., and two related owner entities seeks to recoup $2.7 million incurred by the United States in connection with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup of the site following the explosion. The amended complaint also includes claims against the operators seeking penalties for violations of the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act, a federal law that requires companies to take measures to prevent and minimize the effects of accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances.
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, Mass. At 3 a.m. on the day before Thanksgiving, a series of explosions demolished the manufacturing facility. C.A.I. and Arnel stored and used considerable quantities of 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. Because most residents were asleep in their beds at the time of the explosion, no fatalities occurred and injuries were minor.
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. Hazardous substances removed from the Site included 2-butanone (MEK), toluene and acetone. Under Section 107(a) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the owner or operator of the property from which the release of a hazardous substance occurs is liable for expenditures made by EPA in responding to the release.
After the incident, EPA also investigated the companies’ compliance with various federal laws, including the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act. The United States’ amended complaint alleges 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. The amended complaint also seeks penalties for C.A.I.’s alleged failure to cooperate with EPA’s investigation – specifically C.A.I.’s ongoing failure to respond to an information request letter that EPA issued to the company in Dec. 2009.
Section 112(r)(1) of the Clean Air Act imposes a general duty on owners and operators of facilities that use, handle or store extremely hazardous substances (1) to identify hazards that may result from accidental releases of such substances using appropriate hazard assessment techniques, (2) to design and maintain a safe facility, taking such steps as are necessary to prevent releases, and (3) to minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur.