, Salem, MA

Danversport Explosion

November 20, 2007

The rebuilding of Danversport: One year later, here's what we've learned

DANVERS — For decades in Danversport, the ink and paint plant was an anonymous neighbor.

Many residents of nearby homes didn't know it was there. Others had only a passing understanding of what happened inside. All Dave Marcou of 3 Bates St. knew was that the plant made ink for the sheer plastic bags used in supermarkets. That's what a neighbor had told him.

"I knew there was an ink factory there, but I'm not a chemist," said Marcou, whose back yard faced the plant. "You assume that inspections are happening and everything is on the up and up."

The peaceful -- and in retrospect, naive -- coexistence of the plant and its neighbors came to an abrupt and destructive end in the early morning hours of Nov. 22, 2006 -- one year ago tomorrow.

Maybe a plant worker failed to turn off the heat warming an unsealed batch of chemicals for ink manufacturer CAI, Inc. Maybe the steam heating system malfunctioned.

What federal and state investigators each found was that the volatile mixture, including heptane and propyl alcohol, was overheated.

The plant's ventilation system wasn't on, as it should have been, and eventually the empty building was choked with flammable vapors from the chemical mixture. Then a spark from a still-unknown source somewhere in the plant's electronic machinery ignited the potent cocktail.

The 2:46 a.m. explosion, felt as far away as New Hampshire, collapsed roofs, blew out windows, unhinged deadbolted front doors and sent residents scurrying in their underwear toward an uncertain future. In Danvers, it also gave the date -- Nov. 22 -- a new significance.

"I was 11 years old when John Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22," Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. "That day had been ingrained in my brain as the day JFK died.

"But after Nov. 22 2006, Nov. 22 to me will be the day that we had the explosion in Danversport. It will always be that because it was like nothing I've ever experienced. I'm sure I'm not alone in that."

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