Firefighters Recover Body of Methuen Man at Exploded Newburyport Chemical Plant

Industrial vat ejected from the building during the blast. (Mike Jarvis photograph for WHAV News.)

Officials recovered the body of the only missing worker late Thursday afternoon at a chemical plant in Newburyport that exploded early that morning.

The man was identified as 62-year-old Jack O’Keefe, of Methuen, according to Essex County District Attorney Paul F. Tucker. He was one of five who were inside at PCI Synthesis, 9 Opportunity Way. Acting Newburyport Fire Chief Stephen H. Bradbury III said the department and its mutual aid partners recovered the missing man at the scene of what had been a seven-alarm hazardous materials incident at the industrial park. Four workers were taken to local hospitals and were treated and released.

Firefighters are expected to continue working Friday, removing chemicals from the building. As part of the on-going response, air meters have been set up around the scene’s perimeter and have shown no hazards in the air.

Sens. Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Seth Moulton also demanded answers about the explosion and, what they said is, the plant’s history of serious and repeated safety violations.

“This explosion is only the latest avoidable disaster at this facility, following years of serious safety violations, multiple fines and other explosions,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Seqens, the current owner of the Newburyport facility. “We write seeking the explanation as to why this latest incident occurred and how, after years of fines and regulatory enforcement actions, Seqens could have allowed unsafe conditions to persist.”

Fire officials said there is no danger to the public and environmental cleanup crews are on scene assessing any impact the incident may have caused to local streams. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection are also investigating.

The explosion was reported at 12:45, Thursday morning. Upon arrival, fire crews saw that an industrial-sized vat from inside the building had been ejected about 30 feet to an adjacent parking lot.

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