[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Skip to Main Content

Latest News

November 29, 2006

Chemical Plant Safety

Massachusetts Plant Explosion

Federal investigators initially blocked from site are allowed in

Jeff Johnson

After a four-day delay, investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) were allowed access late on Nov. 28 to a chemical plant explosion site in Danvers, Mass. State and local fire officials are conducting their own investigation of the explosion and had initially blocked CSB access to the site, saying it is a possible crime scene.

The accident occurred at the CAI Inc. plant on Nov. 22 at about 3 AM. About a dozen area residents were injured and briefly hospitalized; some 70 homes were damaged and another 10 were destroyed. The blast was felt miles away from Danvers, which is 15 miles north of Boston. The family-owned plant manufactures water- and solvent-based inks and has about 10 employees.

The federal CSB investigators arrived on Nov. 24 but were denied entry to the site, said Daniel Horowitz, an official with CSB. The board protested, he said, arguing that its authority to enter the plant and investigate chemical accidents is "ironclad" under federal law. This is the first time CSB has been denied access to an accident site by state and local agencies, he added. The board, Horowitz said, is concerned that evidence from the explosion may have been removed or tampered with.

An agreement with state and local authorities for CSB access to the site was reached on Nov. 28, and the board had five investigators there by the end of the day, Horowitz said.

In all, CSB has investigated some 44 chemical plant accidents in its mission to find the root cause of chemical accidents when they occur. In several cases, it has found fault in part with state and local agencies for failing to prepare for or respond to accidents or to require companies to employ safer practices.

A spokesman with the Massachusetts state fire marshall's office would not comment on the Danvers accident or the investigation. The Danvers Fire Department did not return phone calls.

In all, five federal, state, and local agencies are conducting investigations at the CAI accident scene.