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Investigations Continue After Verla Fire In New Windsor

Courtesy of New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services

State and local authorities are trying to determine what triggered explosions and a fire at a cosmetics factory Monday morning in Orange County that left one employee dead and injured some 125 others, including nine firefighters.

A medical examiner was called to Verla International on Temple Hill Road in New Windsor around 7:40 Monday night, after a man’s body was found inside the cosmetics factory. That’s according to Orange County spokesman Justin Rodriguez, who says nine firefighters were injured — five from the City of Newburgh and four from Vails Gate. One of the Newburgh firefighters was taken to Westchester Medical Center for burns. These firefighters were caught in the second explosion, some 25 minutes after responding to the first blast. A St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital spokeswoman says 125 patients were treated relating to the incident. Brendan Casey is commissioner of emergency services for Orange County.

“Thirty different fire agencies responded from multiple counties,” Casey said.

He says about 250 employees worked at the 52,000 square-foot facility that manufactures primarily nail polish and perfumes.

“We knew that it was a chemical explosion that caused this. It was not a Tier 2 facility so it wasn’t a high-level hazmat [hazardous materials] facility,” said Casey. “We believe that whatever chemicals were in the fire or the smoke were alcohol-based.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had ordered a full state response to assist and investigate, including the Department of Environmental Conservation, where Basil Seggos is commissioner.

“We had our air-monitoring teams, our emergency management unit and our spills teams. They remained on site for the duration of the day. We brought in outside contractors, Miller Environmental, who helped us get a sense what the conditions of the runoff into Silver Stream, what those pollution conditions might have been,” Seggos says. “We monitored that very closely. That continues today. Some of the sampling we took should be, the results should be back to us by sort of middle to end of the week.”

Seggos says he does not believe drinking water was contaminated in relation to the fire.

“Fortunately, where the fire happened, it was downstream of any drinking water sources. So while there was clearly some runoff at the back of the building where the firefighting was taking place, it was flowing, the firefighting material was flowing into a portion of the stream that was downstream of the reservoir,” says Seggos. “So again, certainly an issue for us. Part of the investigation that we’ll be doing is looking into the impacts of any of that runoff but, thankfully, it doesn’t look like the drinking water was in any way impacted.

He says the results of state air sampling Monday afternoon should be back in the next day or two and will be compared with county results.

Meantime, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating Verla International because of the explosion. A spokesman says OSHA does not comment on open inspections, which can take up to six months. An OSHA inspection report cited nine safety violations categorized as serious at the Verla plant in New Windsor in April. According to data from OSHA, inspectors cited problems with the handling of flammable and combustible liquids as well as inadequacies relating to respirator protection for workers and the maintenance of exit routes. The company agreed to pay $41,000 in penalties.

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