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Industrial Safety

Massachusetts plant explosion kills 1

Contract pharmaceutical chemical producer has had several serious accidents

by Rick Mullin
May 5, 2023


A view of a pharmaceutical chemical plant after an explosion.
Credit: Associated Press
An early morning explosion at a Seqens pharmaceutical chemical facility on May 4 was the third serious accident at the site since 2020.

An explosion at a Seqens chemical plant in Newburyport, Massachusetts, early on Thursday, May 4, killed one worker. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

The incident is the third serious accident at the plant, which manufactures pharmaceutical chemicals under contract, since 2020 when an explosion damaged a building. A chemical fire occurred at the site in 2021.

The body of Jack O’Keefe, an employee at the company for more than 25 years according to a local news report, was removed from the site late Thursday afternoon. Four other workers on site when the explosion occurred were hospitalized for precautionary reasons, but were uninjured, according to Barry Salt, Newburyport deputy fire chief.

“They had just wrapped up a typical manufacturing procedure that they’d done numerous times daily,” Salt says. “Obviously there was some sort of accident to cause the explosion, but what that was or how that happened is still in the beginning stages of investigation.”

The plant manufactures both active ingredients and intermediates of pharmaceutical chemicals. Chemicals on site at the time of the accident, according to Salt, included acetone, isopropyl alcohol, and methanol.

Salt says air quality has been monitored by the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services beginning 1.5 h after the explosion. Local residents have been informed that there is no risk in the area.

The area of the plant damaged in the explosion has been in operation for more than 20 years. The facility was built in the 1980s. Novacap, a French firm now called Seqens, became the site’s owner when it bought PCI Synthesis in 2018.



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