FAR Chemical, site of Palm Bay explosion, has history of safety violations

No one injured in blast

PALM BAY, Fla.Tuesday’s blast at FAR Chemical Inc. is the second time an explosion at the site has rocked the neighborhood, and comes after a litany of safety violations in recent years, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

Palm Bay Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Gaius Hall said no injuries were reported from Tuesday’s explosions at the company’s 220 Wilhelmina Court location off U.S. 1, when witnesses reported hearing several large booms that generated a large cloud of black smoke visible for miles.

On May 21, 2008, a similar explosion at FAR killed 60-year-old plant worker, Harl “Buck” Brown, a 13-year employee.

Brown, a shift leader, was overseeing the proper disposal of chemical wastewater when 1 ½ inch glass piping leading to a 500-gallon tank ruptured, according to police. No fire was reported at the site, officials said.

The cause of Tuesday’s explosion remains under investigation, fire officials said, but Palm Bay spokeswoman Keely Leggett said it originated from an industrial storage area containing 30 to 40 50-gallon barrels of an isopropyl alcohol-based solution.

The materials safety data sheet on isopropyl alcohol says it is highly flammable, may form explosive peroxides, can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract, and that the vapors can cause drowsiness and dizziness.

“The fire occurred at a material storage pad where flammable materials were stored and then spread to an adjacent building,” Joe Beatty, vice president/general manager of FAR, said via email.

FAR is a bulk chemical manufacturer that specializes in “custom synthesis of chemicals used by the pharmaceutical, photographic, electronic, polymer, cosmetic, fragrance and chemical industry, including small volume chemical mixtures for the local electronics sector,” according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents.

The company has been in Palm Bay since 1983.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection workers responded to the explosions Tuesday.

“Response staff are currently on-site and will be assessing whether environmental impacts occurred as a result of today’s incident,” Ashley Gardner, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Orlando, said via email. “Following first response efforts to today’s incident, the Department will be conducting a regulatory review of FAR Chemical to ensure they are operating in accordance with environmental laws and adhering to permit conditions. Any non-compliance will be addressed through appropriate enforcement.”

Prior to the 2008 fatality, the company a month earlier settled $8,727 in civil penalties from the state DEP for hazardous waste labeling and other safety violations, DEP documents show.

An explosion was reported at a chemical plant in Palm Bay.

In a September 2009 warning letter in response to the incident, DEP said that the May 2008 explosion in a reactor that caused Brown’s death was “potentially the result of the failure of facility personnel to follow standard operating procedures.”

Ultimately, the company and DEP would settle on FAR paying a $4,369 fine for violations having to do with the company’s waste analysis plan that were spelled out in the warning letter.

Since the 2008 incident, state and federal environmental regulators have cited the company for safety violations.

As a result of a Dec. 18, 2013 inspection, EPA in September 2015 fined FAR $53,253 in civil penalties for improperly storing waste containers in a laboratory area, including acetone, sodium cyanide and other chemicals.

Other violations included:

  • failing to make hazardous waste determinations on chemicals;
  • storing hazardous waste without a permit;
  • storing ignitable and/or reactive hazardous wastes at a location within one of its buildings that was less than 50 feet from the property line;
  • failing to conduct weekly inspections of stored hazardous waste; and other chemical safety violations.

DEP had inspected the facility on May 14, 2013, finding it not in compliance.

The state agency found violations including proper cleaning and storage of containers. The violations were resolved and the case was closed without formal enforcement, according to DEP documents.

In 2000, DEP issued $77,226 in civil penalties for hazardous waste releases, $38,613 of which the agency allowed the company to offset by pollution prevention projects.