In a case study report released on the October 2006 hazardous waste fire at the Environmental Quality Co. (EQ), the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) called for a new national fire code for hazardous waste facilities and for improving the information provided to community emergency planners about the chemicals those facilities store and handle.
The fire occurred on the night of October 5, 2006, at the EQ hazardous waste transfer facility on Investment Boulevard in Apex, a suburb of Raleigh, N.C. The facility was not staffed or monitored after hours, and no EQ employees were present at the time of the fire. Emergency responders did not have access to specific information on the hazardous chemicals stored at the site and ordered the precautionary evacuation of thousands of Apex residents. The evacuation order remained in place for two days until the fire had subsided.
The CSB also released a 16-min safety video, “Emergency in Apex: Hazardous Waste Fire and Community Evacuation,” available on free DVDs and on the agency’s video web site, www.safetyvideos.gov.
The CSB investigation found that a small fire originated in the facility’s oxidizer storage bay, one of six storage bays where different wastes were consolidated, stored and prepared for transfer off-site to treatment and disposal facilities. Within the oxidizer bay were a number of chemical oxygen generators, which had earlier been removed from aircraft during routine maintenance at a facility in Mobile, Ala. However, they had not been safely activated and discharged before entering the waste stream. Solid chlorine-based pool chemicals were stacked on top of the box containing still functional oxygen generators.
The facility was destroyed in the ensuing fire and explosions, which sent fireballs hundreds of feet into the air.
The CSB report recommended the EPA require that permitted hazardous waste facilities periodically provide specific, written information to state and local response officials on the type, approximate quantities, and location of hazardous materials. It called on the Environmental Technology Council, a trade association representing about 80 percent of the U.S. hazardous waste industry, to develop standardized guidance on waste-handling and storage to prevent releases and fires.