Hazardous-waste plant explosion forces evacuations in Apex, N.C.

An explosion at a hazardous-waste disposal plant in Apex, N.C., late last night forced the evacuation of more than half the town. Some 17,500 people left their homes, and more than 40 have been hospitalized. The toxic plume that emerged from ironically named Environmental Quality Industrial Services is laced with chlorine gas and possibly pesticides and other toxins. “Because of the many different types of waste that we bring in, it’s very difficult to determine the cause of the fire,” said an EQ spokesflack. Officials worry that shifting winds and rain will move and expand the plume into previously unaffected areas. The flames also spread to a neighboring light-oil company, setting four oil tanks on fire. Unbeknownst to Apex officials until this morning, the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources had fined EQ $32,000 for six safety violations in March, including a citation for “failing to maintain and operate the facility to minimize the possibility of a sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous waste.” Oops.