A pharmaceutical plant in Newburyport, Massachusetts, that was rocked by a powerful explosion last week is expected to be demolished this week.
Mayor Sean Reardon said Monday that the city has given the building's owner a deadline of 8 a.m. Wednesday to begin demolition operations. It is expected that demolition will begin Tuesday afternoon.
The cause of the explosion remains under investigation, but a spokesman for the Department of Fire Services told The Boston Globe it appears to have been related to a chemical manufacturing process. It is not believed to be suspicious.
Thursday's explosion at the Seqens/PCI Synthesis plant tore the roof off the building and sprayed debris as far as 800 feet from the facility. One worker was killed and four others injured in the blast.
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The person who died was identified as Jack O’Keefe, 62, of Methuen, according to the Essex County District Attorney’s office. An autopsy is planned.
About four dozen large barrels containing chemicals including acetone, methanol and isopropyl alcohol were removed from the building Friday, and a crane was brought in to shore up a metal support beam as crews worked, according to a statement by Newburyport Acting Fire Chief Stephen Bradbury III.
On Monday, hazardous materials technicians and crews remained on scene, removing the final eight 55-gallon drums of chemicals and draining about 2,000 gallons of chemicals from chemical reactors at the plant, city officials said. A contractor has also been brought in to shore up the steel supports to replace a crane that has been holding the building up since Friday.
Officials from the Newburyport Building Department were also on scene all weekend and on Monday morning. If no further dangers or problems are discovered, city officials said they anticipate that building officials and investigators will clear the scene.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Friday that it had started an inspection into the company. The inspection is aimed at determining if the employer has complied with OSHA workplace safety and health standards. It could take up to six months.
The explosion happened around 1 a.m. Thursday, officials said. Video showed most of the roof torn off a building, marking at least the third safety problem at the plant since 2020.
Smoke from the fire blew into a largely unpopulated area, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, and air quality monitoring near the site has so far detected no hazards. Area waterways are also being monitored.
The plant lies a little more than 30 miles north of Boston and has had a string of problems over the years - prompting U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton — in whose district the facility is located — to write a letter to the company late Thursday demanding a full accounting of what happened.
“This explosion is only the latest avoidable disaster at this facility, following years of serious safety violations, multiple fines, and other explosions,” the lawmakers said in the letter. “We write seeking the explanation as to why this latest incident occurred and how, after years of fines and regulatory enforcement actions, Seqens could have allowed unsafe conditions to persist.”
Thursday’s explosion makes it “painfully apparent that your company has failed to create any meaningful or effective safety culture,” the letter said.
Sequens said in a statement last week that it is focused on employee safety. "We strive to follow best practices and regulatory guidelines, and have implemented safety protocols and procedures to prevent incidents like this from occurring.
A chemical fire in the building in June 2021 sent smoke pouring out of roof vents and prompted a hazardous materials team to respond, according to a fire department statement at the time.
In 2020, authorities said a chemical reaction caused a series of explosions at the plant. That happened a year after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found “serious” violations in how the company managed highly hazardous chemicals, according to online agency records.
The factory has also been cited by OSHA for workplace safety violations and in 2019 paid a penalty of more than $50,000 to settle Environmental Protection Agency charges that it violated hazardous waste laws.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.