CSB's Report on Danvers Blast Coming May 13

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board's report on the November 2006 chemical explosion at CAI/Arnel in Danvers, Mass., will be issued May 13 if the board votes to approve it at a public meeting that evening in Danvers, closing federal and state investigations of an incident that caused friction between CSB and the state's fire marshal and may prompt tougher state rules for facilities that process chemicals.

The CAI/Arnel facility exploded around 2:45 a.m. Nov. 22, starting a fire and damaging about 250 homes, 20 businesses, a school, 300 passenger and commercial vehicles, and 65 boats. The facility itself was destroyed, and several neighboring structures were damaged beyond repair. About 20 nearby residents were treated, but no one died. State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan's office subsequently eliminated natural gas, methane gas, the facility's furnaces, two dust collection systems at the facility, and the facility's fuel farm -- underground chemical storage tanks -- as possible causes/ignition sources. Coan's report in March 2007 concluded the blast involved heptane vapors and was caused by inadvertent overheating of the chemical in a mixing vessel. Any of several ignition sources in the building could have ignited it, the report stated; the Boston Globe noted in its account of the report that Coan was critical of CSB at that time, saying the board was not opening its files on the case to his investigators.

Coan on March 11, 2008, issued four non-criminal citations to CAI Inc. (which owned and operated the facility) and Arnel Co. Inc. for alleged failure to store flammables in a prescribed manner, failure to obtain a permit to store flammables and combustibles, failure to obtain a permit for the underground storage tanks, and failure to obtain a permit to store LP gas. Each carried a $100 fine. Coan sought a criminal complaint against the companies for allegedly storing more flammable liquids and solids than their licenses permitted for the premises -- an allegation the companies denied.

William Wark, a CSB member, has said the Danvers incident underscores the need to better inform the public of the hazards of chemicals stored in their midst. The May 13 public meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Ferncroft Resort in Danvers. After a presentation by CSB investigators, there will be presentations by witnesses discussing changes in local and state safety oversight that have been proposed since the incident, a public comment period, and then the board's vote on the report.

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