By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

What’s up with the Danvers lockdown?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t people allowed to view Ground Zero almost immediately after the terrorist attacks of 9/11?

I’m eager to learn what the Salem News reports later today, but at the moment, I’m concerned about what I’m seeing. More than four days after the Danvers explosion, the neighborhood is still sealed off with police barricades. No one can get in or out without identification showing that they belong in the neighborhood.

Even more inexplicable is that Fire Chief James Tutko is refusing to allow federal inspectors to do their jobs. I’m trying to approach this with an open mind, but right now it’s hard to disagree with Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker, who writes:

If James Tutko, the Danvers fire chief, really wants to do something to aid the investigation into the stunning explosion last week, there is one step he could easily take: Get out of the way.

It is absurd that the federal Chemical Safety Board can’t get onto the site to investigate the cause of the blaze, because the fire official has decided they aren’t needed.

The Globe reports on this strange development here and here. The Herald has another angle on the dispute here. The Chemical Safety Board Web site, in announcing its Danvers investigation, has this to say by way of background:

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems, regulations, and industry standards.

That sounds like exactly what we need. Those of us who live in Danvers deserve an explanation as to why the CSB isn’t being allowed in.


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9 Comments

  1. todd

    Am I right in thinking the CSB is sort of a NTSB of chemical accidents?

  2. Anonymous

    have you considered that the real story might be the local FD didn’t know/have info on the chemicals on site? It has come up in other towns…

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 11:03: Anything is possible. Wouldn’t that be all the more reason to get the feds on site?

  4. man who's a conspiracy fan

    I feel like Fox Mulder…Trust no oneSeriously, though…I know, personally, a lot of folks that work for the state and work for the feds, so I don’t like painting with a broad brush. But Massachusetts has shown time and time again that you can’t trust anyone when it’s time to go through the process that ultimately assigns blame.I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that one of two scenarios is playing out: One, the CSB was supposed to know something was unsafe at that plant, and didn’t do anything about it thanks to corruption at the federal level. The local folks aren’t aware of this but are getting bad vibes from the CSB, and since it was their backyards that were leveled, they’re not about to roll over for the feds.Scenario two: the local authorities are the corrupt ones (or just incompetent) and they’re trying to hide the evidence before the feds can sniff it out.Personally, I think scenario number two is more likely. But thanks to our “business friendly” administration at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue…I’m not ruling out number one, either.The one thing I am pretty sure of is that sooner or later it’ll come out that either this blast was intentional, or someone was cutting corners on the safety regs. It’s mighty goddamn rare that building-leveling explosions “just happen” when the safety rules are followed.

  5. Anonymous

    You were able to get about three blocks away from Ground Zero 10 days after it happened.

  6. Paul@01852

    …And I know the implication is that this type of business was grandfathered in because zoning regulations were less strict when the business was begun but hasn’t anyone else wondered just who the heck allowed such dangerous chemicals literally in someone’s backyard???

  7. BK

    I activated over 40 Red Cross Client Assistance Cards this weekend for folks affected in the Danvers explosion …so at least they’re getting help. However it would be nice for them to be aware if they should be worried about health issues.

  8. man who's a conspiracy fan

    Paul@01852, I understand what you’re saying…but it’s not that simple.Anyone…anyone with a natural gas furnace or stove in their house has the potential to blow the entire house sky-high and probably take the adjacent houses with it. It’s basically the same principle that thermobaric explosives (AKA “fuel-air explosives”) work off of.Similarly, if you know what you’re doing, you can make dandy explosives from the cleaning chemicals the vast majority of homes store under their kitchen sink without a second thought.For that matter, even seen a power substation blow? Someone just mentioned the one in Allston that blew in April 2002; there’s thousands of people that all live right next to that one. Never mind the 100’s of thousands that live near substations across the country.And, oh yeah, let’s not forget the nuclear reactor at MIT ;-)Yet we don’t wonder why those “explosion risks” are allowed in peoples’ back yards. Why don’t we wonder? Because with the right precautions, these systems and chemicals are about 99% safe. I won’t say 100% because weird things can always happen…but 99% is pretty good. Your odds of death or injury from driving a car are much greater!With such a minimal risk, the benefits to such an arrangement quickly gain more weight: sure nobody wants to live right next door to a chemical plant…but lots of people want to live right next to the water in an otherwise-nice neighborhood.It’s not stated as much, but I’ll bet that’s why Adrian Walker’s (thanks to Dan for linking to it) rather strongly implies that this wasn’t really an “accident”. True “accidents” like this are rare…much more likely that it’s due to someone not following the rules; either from neglect or malice.BTW, I hadn’t read Walker’s article until after I submitted my first post. He put it much more succinctly than I did:The feds may find, for example, that inadequate local fire codes contributed to a fire. They may find that inspections were not up to par in some regard. They may also produce findings that differ from those of local officials, who are accustomed to investigating fires together — and, in some cases, covering each other’s backs.I wonder how long it will be before the Danvers explosion is co-opted by the anti-BioLab folks fighting that bioweapons research facility proposed for the South End

  9. BetaMistress

    man who’s a conspiracy fan:I lived around the corner from the Beacon Ink explosion in Somervile a decade or so ago; IIRC the cause was an electrical fault that would not have been found on visual inspection. And, like in Danvers, the containers of solvents blew up and burned; the old-age home on Morrison had to be evacuated and the adjacent buildings on Winslow were destroyed.The owners of CAI could have done everything right, and this could still have happened. Especially if the ultimate cause is found to be something like an in-wall wiring fault.I’m sure this is a game of CYA, but there is no way that the Danvers Fire Department investigators are equipped to determine all of the results of a chemical explosion; that’s precisely why the CSB was formed.I sincerely hope that the media keeps asking this question.

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