DANVERS — A legislative committee is mulling more training for boiler operators in light of the fiery 2006 Danversport chemical plant blast and a subsequent explosion that rocked the North Shore at the Bostik plant in Middleton in March.
Yesterday afternoon, lawmakers met in a room at the New England Homes for the Deaf, which suffered heavy damage nearly five years ago in the Thanksgiving Eve blast.
Members of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure were treated to a video produced by the facility that showed the community room's picture windows all boarded up after being blown out.
The explosion at the former CAI/Arnel ink and paint plant was so powerful that it shattered windows and pulled down ceiling tiles and duct work and caused widespread damage throughout the New England Homes for the Deaf, even though it is across the Waters River from the chemical plant.
There was so much damage, about 70 deaf and deaf-blind residents had to move out for several months to a nursing home in Beverly that could accommodate them, Executive Director Emmanuel Ikomi said.
"We went through a very rough time here," said Ikomi, whose tenure as the homes' leader began after the incident.
State Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, who grew up not far from the explosion site, is pushing a bill he hopes will head off such a blast in the future. Speliotis is sponsoring House Bill No. 122, which would increase levels of experience for steam boiler operators, no matter how small the boiler. It would require all commercial boilers be checked every four hours.
The bill was filed awhile ago, but Speliotis, the committee's co-chairman, brought it back in light of the explosion at the Bostik chemical plant on March 13 in Middleton.
In both instances, it appeared human error was to blame because valves were left open, so the bill would require boiler operators to have more experience.
"Obviously, it's a great bill," said Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry, D-Peabody, who attended the hearing. "It's a necessary bill."
Berry added that he was knocked out of bed by the blast in 2006. He said boilers should not operate without supervision.
While Speliotis, local officials and residents like the bill, not everyone is in favor of it, including the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, whose senior vice president, Robert Rio, said in an interview the measure simply involves unions trying to create more regulations to swell their ranks.
"Clearly, they are trying to increase regulations with no real basis for it happening," Rio said.
According to Rio, there are already regulations requiring boiler inspections. He said modern boilers have automatic controls so they do not have to be monitored around the clock.
Al Allain, the owner of an electrical contracting business in Danversport, Allain & Son, also opposes the proposed rules because the Danversport blast may have been caused by human error, something no regulation can prevent. The state has too many regulations as it is, Allain said.
"We are not talking huge dollars here," said Danversport resident James Turcotte, who was both affected by the blast and who is president of the Chapter 146 Association, which supports the bill. Turcotte said rules were changed in 1997 to require less oversight of small boilers, something the bill would rectify.
To show lawmakers what the neighborhood went through, several members of the committee toured the blast site and the streets around it, including state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis, D-Peabody, and the committee's co-chairman, state Sen. Thomas Kennedy, D-Brockton. Residents and lawmakers looked at the rusting hulks of a boiler and mix tank left lying on their sides on a cement pad where the factory once stood.
The visit also showed how far the neighborhood has come in rebuilding since the blast. Residents and officials shared stories about that morning in which 10 people were injured, none of them seriously, and no one died.
"Someone that day described it as a 'Thanksgiving miracle,'" Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. It was a matter of divine intervention that no one was killed in the 2:46 a.m. blast, he said — that and most people were in bed under the covers, preventing them from being hit by flying glass.
"Let's prevent this from happening to another neighborhood," said Precinct 3 Town Meeting member Sandy Lane as she walked down Riverside Street. "I can't guarantee this would have been prevented, but it's a big step for it to be prevented."
The committee adjourned without taking a vote, and Speliotis said that could come within a matter of weeks.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.