Sprinkler malfunction damages machines, closes city plastics plant

  • The BI-QEM plant on Nonotuck Street in Florence. BI-QEM is a global manufacturer of thermosetting resins and compounds. Photographed on Thursday, March 31, 2022. —GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2022 8:40:33 PM
Modified: 8/10/2022 8:37:17 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Florence plastics manufacturer remains closed after a major water leak on Saturday damaged machines inside the facility.

On Saturday, city firefighters responded to an alarm at BI-QEM, a global manufacturer of thermosetting resins and compounds located at 238 Nonotuck St. A faulty sprinkler system had caused “significant water damage to multiple machines and systems within the facility,” according to a press release from the mayor’s office, which said that at no time were any members of the public at danger because of the leak.

Because of the repairs needed to restart work safely at the factory, the city’s Building Department and Fire Department issued a cease and desist order early Saturday. On Wednesday, plant manager Bill Norman confirmed to the Gazette that the factory remained closed pending a city inspection Thursday.

“We’re waiting for the town’s approval,” Norman said, adding that the damage was fixed Monday morning and that his goal is to have the plant back up and running Thursday.

The water leak is not the first time potential hazards have been found at the factory this year.

In March, BI-QEM came under fire after an outdoor spill of toxic formaldehyde. That same month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had ordered the company — formerly known as Chemiplastica — to correct hazards identified during a February inspection. Those included “leaking formaldehyde pipes, excessive amounts of potentially combustible dust, electrical hazards, and lack of overflow controls on a large formaldehyde tank.”

In her statement about the water leak on Saturday, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said that BI-QEM’s local management was “on-site and cooperative” during the city’s initial inspection. The state Department of Environmental Protection was also on scene, she said.


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