Pascrell calls for federal investigation of Passaic's massive chemical plant fire

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U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. on Tuesday asked a federal safety agency to probe Jan. 14's massive fire at the Qualco pool chemical plant in Passaic.

In frigid temperatures, about 200 firefighters from 100 towns beat back the flames, which had ignited some 100,000 pounds of chlorine in one building.

Only their efforts kept the conflagration away from a much larger reservoir of chlorine next door, officials said.

“While we narrowly avoided a chemical catastrophe in Passaic, serious questions remain about the proximate cause of the fire and scope of the hazard posed by the substances stored at the Qualco plant,” said Pascrell, who co-chairs the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.

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The Democrat, who represents New Jersey's 9th Congressional District, asked the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to examine the fire and the extent of the hazard. The board was created by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and played a significant role in investigating the horrific 1995 Napp Technologies chemical plant fire in Lodi, which killed five people.

In the years since, Pascrell has worked to ensure that the chemical safety board was funded, and he helped defeat a Trump administration proposal to eliminate the board entirely.

Related: Murphy honors Passaic firefighters for 'heroism' at devastating chemical plant fire

Related: Keeping Passaic fire from chlorine prevented 'one of the biggest disasters in the country'

In the past, the congressman has requested the board's involvement after multiple chemical-related incidents in North Jersey, including the 1998 Morton International incident that injured nine workers in Paterson and the 2012 US Ink Fire in East Rutherford.

Passaic Mayor Hector Lora said the investigation might determine whether regulations need to be tightened.

"You want regulations and best practices to match the potential to do real harm," Lora said, adding that the Passaic fire could have led to mass evacuations in communities on both sides of the Passaic River.

Passaic Mayor Hector Lora looks over the damage in the aftermath of an 11-alarm fire that destroyed much of the Qualco chemical plan in Passaic on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.
Passaic Mayor Hector Lora looks over the damage in the aftermath of an 11-alarm fire that destroyed much of the Qualco chemical plan in Passaic on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

"I welcome this," Passaic Fire Chief Pat Trentacost said. "I am thrilled the congressman is taking this step."

As it is, the chief said, although firefighters armed with the Right to Know laws that identify chemicals onsite manage to keep a handle on what they may be facing at a given fire, it remains a constant battle.

"I have a captain in my office that follows the Right to Know properties," the chief said.

The good news is that the city has fewer large-scale sites that store vast amounts of toxic chemicals, he said.

Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: fagan@northjersey.com

Twitter: @fagan_nj

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Passaic NJ factory fire: Pascrell wants chemical plant probe