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NC evacuees return

Most North Carolina evacuees were allowed to return on Saturday morning after a hazardous materials fire late Thursday, but some residents are still waiting on environmental tests before going home.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 7, 2006

Most North Carolina evacuees were allowed to return on Saturday morning after a hazardous materials fire late Thursday, but some residents are still waiting on environmental tests before going home.

The fire affected the community of Apex, a suburb of Raleigh. At one point, flames reached a height of 150 feet, and a dark cloud hung over the town.

To avoid toxic runoff and the threat to firefighters, the fire was left to burn itself out. The chemicals involved, and the cause of the explosion, have not yet been determined. The company holds permits to handle numerous toxic substances, including cadmium, chromium, mercury and hazardous organic materials.

People who live in the area immediately surrounding the burned-out Environmental Quality Industrial Services were waiting for pending environmental testing. They should have results by Saturday afternoon, local officials said.

Reports from the State Department of Environment and Natural Resources say water supplies downstream from the facility are safe. Local, state and federal officials will continue to monitor the site for hazards to the air and water.

Some 17,000 people fled their homes because a fire at the facility released black smoke and yellow gas that may have contained paints, solvents, pesticides and weed killer.

There were no reports of serious injuries, though 44 people visited emergency rooms complaining of breathing problems.

Thirty people remained in shelters Friday night.

The plant was a short-term routing facility where material was constantly coming and going, so there is no way of knowing exactly which toxins may have been released.

Last year, a similar fire at one of the company's plants in Romulus, Mich., drove about 2,000 people from their homes and sent at least 32 people to hospitals.


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