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NEWBURYPORT, Mass. (AP) — Authorities in Massachusetts on Friday identified the worker who died after a powerful explosion tore through a pharmaceutical chemical plant with a history of safety violations.
Fire crews in Newburyport were still cleaning up the site, a day after what they described as seven-alarm hazardous materials event that tore the roof off the building and sprayed debris as far as 800 feet away from the facility. Four workers were sent to a hospital, but were uninjured and released.
The person who died was identified as Jack O’Keefe, 62, of Methuen, according to a spokesperson for the Essex County District Attorney’s office.
Newburyport Deputy Fire Chief Barry Salt told reporters Friday that work was underway to contain barrels of chemicals in the building to make it safe to access. He said the cause remained unclear.
“All we know is that it was a part of a chemical process that they do continually every day, and they are looking into the cause,” Salt said.
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 at the Sequens/PCI Synthesis plant, 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, which added that initial air monitoring found no significant problems.
“There is no risk to the environment currently or to the community itself,” Salt said.
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. Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts to say the company needs to provide answers about what happened.
“We can’t keep excusing companies’ flagrant disregard for worker safety,” he said in a tweet.
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.
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