At 2:46 AM on November 22, 2006, in a neighborhood of Danvers, Massachusetts, a small chemical plant producing ink and paint exploded. Twenty houses were destroyed, some within as little as 150 feet from the plant, and 300 people were evacuated but no lives were lost. The plant, operated by CAI Incorporated, was one of very few chemical plants located in an urban area. The damage to the community was the worst in ten years of reporting even considering the relatively small size of the destroyed plant. State regulations passed in 1997 caused the boiler thought to be the source of the blast to be excluded from regulations applied to larger boilers.
It appears that due to human error the boiler was being heated at a time when it was not sealed, causing a volatile liquid within the tank to boil, producing a vapor which was dispersed within the building. There were no workers in the plant at the time. The source of ignition is not known but the plant exploded with force compared to that of a 2000 pound bomb. CAI, Inc. disputed the accident report, mentioning such possible causes as a natural gas explosion.
The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) recommended that CAI, Inc. develop a written safety program to manage hazardous processes and volatile chemicals, with detailed safety measures to conform to industry and professional standards as well as to OSHA regulations. The State of Massachusetts did not pass legislation implementing a new investigative board. They chose instead to increase inspections and permitting by the state Fire Marshal. The local Danvers Fire Department also instituted a program of annual inspections.
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