New questions surround Waxahachie chemical company

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on October 10, 2011 at 10:02 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 11 at 4:38 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

WAXAHACHIE — It was one week ago that workers and firefighters narrowly escaped a massive chemical fire and explosion in Waxahachie.

Now, as environmental officials continue their investigation, new questions have surfaced about another chemical plant owned by the same company also inside the Waxahachie city limits.

While many questions remain, what's certain is that the chemicals being blended inside the building that burned October 3 were dangerous — which is exactly why residents living next to another Magnablend plant a few miles away are more worried than ever about their safety.

Like many Waxahachie residents, Dee Fallett watched the skies over her house turn black from the chemical fire that raged at the Magnablend plant on the north end of town last Monday. But unlike most others, she is just now learning that many of the dangerous chemicals that sparked those explosions are being mixed in another Magnablend plant 150 yards from her front door.

She has never seen those chemicals, but often smells them. Fallett's neighbor, Chuck Daniel, says he, too, has detected the distinct aroma.

Last year, he said he got so sick from the fumes he complained to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"It made breathing hard, kind of labored, Daniel said. "I got bronchitis attacks and stuff."

The EPA later determined there were no emissions violations. The Magnablend plant has never had a serious reportable incident.

But should a hazardous chemical blending facility be so close to residents and homes?

The Magnablend plant is zoned "light industrial." Light industrial is intended for "lighter manufacturing, research and development."

According to Waxahachie zoning codes, where "highly toxic chemicals, or highly combustible or explosive materials are present" ... "a high risk or hazardous industrial, special use permit is required."

City Manager Paul Stevens says the city was unaware such volatile chemicals were on-site. "It certainly gives us concern to take a look at that and make sure that we are zoning the property properly," he said. "We must make sure the fire department knows exactly what is happening in those facilities so they can fight a fire if it does happen again."

Magnablend CEO Scott Pendery told News 8 the Fire Marshal has visited the facility before and has never raised a concern.

"I'm not opposed to meeting with fire officials or city officials or whomever," Pendery said. "I want them to be comfortable with what we are doing, and that we meet proper zoning."

But that is of little comfort to Dee Fallett, who feels certain that the interests of a major employer will come before the concerns of a few residents.

"My guess would be is that they would just rezone it so that they can be there," she said. "I don't feel safe here anymore."

News 8 also learned that this past January, the City of Waxahachie passed a resolution seeking more than $700,000 in state grants on behalf of Magnablend. The grant money was never awarded, but it was approved by the city to help Magnablend expand.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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