State fire chiefs want strong chemical control regs

DANVERS – The state’s fire chiefs are asking the Legislature to pass a bill that would establish strong regulations on chemical processing in the wake of a November 2006 explosion that destroyed or damaged more than 100 buildings in a Danvers neighborhood.The Fire Chiefs’ Association of Massachusetts met Monday in Danvers to issue a call to action, asserting the state lacks a systematic oversight of companies that process dangerous chemicals.Concord Fire Chief Kenneth Willette, the association president, said House Bill 4521 provides crucial regulations on chemical processing and would offer a centralized database as well as combined resources. The proposed legislation would give public safety officials the ability to determine where chemicals are mixed in Massachusetts, and require notification of any changes in activity at those facilities.”Without immediate attention to chemical mixing regulations, the next incident at one of these facilities could be even more tragic,” Willette said. “We need trained chemical safety engineers and those with the knowledge of not only how to deal with a disaster with these substances when it occurs, but also how to identify risks, to keep them from happening.”Danvers Fire Chief James Tutko said it was a miracle nobody died when the printing plant exploded. A similar incident occurred in Nahant in May 2006 when a mansion owned by a fashion designer caught fire, heating up chemicals stored in the cellar and setting off explosions heard blocks away.As a precursor into introducing the bill, the state Fire Marshal’s Office launched the Safe Neighborhood Initiative. Inspectors selected 40 locations where chemicals are processed and found two where conditions resembled those in Danvers before the explosion.Lynn Fire Capt. Robert Bourke, chief inspector of the department’s Fire Prevention Bureau, said the city has four primary sites where chemicals are processed: the General Electric Co.’s River Works plant in West Lynn, C.L. Hauthaway & Sons on Summer Street, Garelick Farms on the Lynnway, and an electro-plating company that is moving out of the Lydia Pinkham on Western Avenue.”We have a little bit of everything here in Lynn, but we inspect these places regularly,” said Bourke, noting that the electro-plating business is 80-percent relocated out of the city.”GE has chemicals on site. C.L. Hauthaway makes adhesives, and Garelick Farms has a large volume of ammonia on hand for its cooling systems,” he said. “They have to report to us. I think most people in Lynn know what GE and Hauthaway are doing. But the Danvers explosion was such a trauma to the neighborhood. You had this little boat basin and boathouses and a residential neighborhood. Nobody had a clue what was there in the middle of them.”Bourke said funding from the proposed legislation could potentially assist the Local Emergency Planning Committees, which are regionalized into a larger body including Lynn, Salem, Peabody, Danvers, Marblehead, Swampscott and Nahant.

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