Chemical co. shuts down after violations

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CAMBRIDGEPORT — An "under the radar" chemical company whose client list included the Department of Defense has shut down after it ran into serious regulatory problems with both the state of Vermont and the town of Grafton.

Bruce Martin, the regional inspector for the Vermont Division of Fire Safety, said Monday that Matrix Chem Inc., has closed and the chemicals are being cleaned up by Clean Harbors, a regional chemical clean-up firm. The company was facing numerous deadlines to bring its operation into compliance by mid-January after a surprise inspection of the company in late December.

Martin said he would do a third inspection of the company's site, which is inside a large industrial building at 3992 Saxtons River Road, close to the boundary between Rockingham and Grafton. The building, owned by John McKay of Brattleboro, houses several businesses.

Martin said he was reassured that the owner of Matrix Chem, Andrea Linkin-Butler of Londonderry, has hired Clean Harbors, and he has confidence that Clean Harbors will remove the chemicals and clean up the company. He said when he first visited the building in December, there were 30 55-gallon drums on site "still in packaging."

Martin, who is the regional inspector for the Vermont Department of Public Safety's Division of Fire Safety and a key member of the state's hazardous materials response team, said the problem first came to the attention of the town in December, prompting the state's inspection.

He said MatrixChem has "flown under the radar" for several years. Matrix Chem was previously located in downtown Springfield at the old Precision Valley Development Corp.

The fire safety inspection revealed a Level 4 hazard index, four out of a possible five.

William Kearns, the administrator officer for the town of Grafton, said the town is happy MatrixChem has shut down and that a clean up is underway.

He said Grafton was afraid that the problem would result in a contaminated area that would end up in the lap of the town.

Kearns said the town received a tip about the chemical company in December from one of the fellow tenants in the building, which housed the former Unified Data Products many years ago.

"The town's happy," said Kearns, who said the town was worried about the potential for chemical fires and the impact on its local volunteer fire department.

The town still has concerns about potential pollution coming from the site, Kearns said.

Efforts to reach Linkin-Butler were unsuccessful.

The fire alarm system was in alarm and had been silenced, the report stated, and it lacked a current proof of inspection sticker. The most recent inspection was in 2014. Additionally, the inspection showed that the sprinkler protection system was not functioning, and the fire pump was turned off and two risers were physically disconnected in the sprinkler room.

"Numerous portable un-vented heating units were observed inside this building. Unvented fuel-fired heaters are prohibited inside an occupied building. These must be removed from the building immediately," the report stated.

A large quantity of 55-gallon drugs containing ethyl acetate and denatured alcohol were observed on pallets and stored in a common area shared with the building's other tenants, which include a nano-tube manufacturer and a granite stone manufacturing firm.

The state inspection report also noted that a variety of chemicals were stored either on the floor or on shelving in the common area, including benzoyl chloride, cholorodinitrobenzene, acrylonitrile, and boron. There were also "numerous unmarked and corroded containers."

The Division of Fire Safety ordered Matrix Chem to make immediate improvements to its operation or face enforcement action after a surprise inspection on Dec. 23.

Matrix Chem Inc. is a government subcontractor, according to federal websites. The company is listed as performing "all other basic organic chemical manufacturing."

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The Division of Fire Safety gave the company until Jan. 17 to come into compliance, according to a fire inspection report.

Kearns said that as far as he knew the business had not been in compliance — either with the fire safety inspection or with the state's various environmental laws, including Act 250, the state's law use law.

In a sharply-worded letter sent earlier this month to Gov. Phil Scott, the Grafton Select Board said the company was operating "under the radar" — and was being ignored by some state agencies.

The Grafton letter reminded Scott that his administration had been informed about the company by the town back in 2018, when the town fought a proposed solar facility that would have been built next to the existing building.

At the time, Grafton said that "all regulatory and statutory violations" should be addressed before the solar facility was granted a state permit.

Kearns said earlier that Grafton Fire Chief Richard Thompson had complained to the state fire inspection officials, prompting the visit by the Division of Fire Safety.

The building sits close to the Rockingham-Grafton border; at one time it was known as the Unified Data building, which started operations there in the 1970s. The building and its parking lot border the Saxtons River. The large industrial building, which is owned by John McKay of Brattleboro, also houses two other industrial firms, Vermont Stoneworks and Cheap Tubes Inc.

Matrix Chem was founded in 1992 by Douglas Butler, Linkin-Butler's husband, and he moved the company into the Cambridgeport site in 2012, according to Butler's obituary. He died in 2016 of cancer. At one point, Matrix Chem was located in Springfield at 100 River Street.

Martin said that while there were many potential safety problems, as far as he knew there had not been an incident. "There was no evidence of that," he said.

Martin said he was waiting for an inventory of all the chemicals found at the site by Clean Harbors. He said the company had never filed what is called a Tier II report, which is also sent to area fire departments, so they are aware of what potential chemicals exist in a building.

"The Tier II is a big one," he said.

He said the state never ordered Matrix Chem to shut down, despite the violations. They closed down voluntarily, he said.

"As far as we're concerned, the major issues have been dealt with," Martin said.

Stephen Monahan, director of the Vermont Occupational Health and Safety Administration (VOSHA) said his office conducted a surprise inspection on Dec. 26. He said the office has six months to complete its investigation.

"We received a concern about worker safety," he said. "That investigation is still open." He said during VOSHA's first visit, there was no work occurring, but he said there were materials and evidence of a laboratory. "I don't know if they've shut down permanently," he said.

"If it turns out they are not operating, then VOSHA would need evidence of employee exposure. We would have to observe the violations," he said.

He said VOSHA was allowed inside the building on Dec. 26, but the owner declined to speak with the inspector, referring all questions to the company's attorney.

"There was no work occurring," he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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