Giancarlo Pani watched a dark cloud from the Necco Candy Company move over the marsh on Friday, Oct. 5th, towards his Bryant Street home, which sits just 50 feet from the factory.
“They must be making candy,” he said to himself as he went to bed.
But the cloud didn’t contain the usual sweet smells of strawberry; instead, the cloud burnt his skin, eyes and lungs.
David Jeglinski was awakened suddenly that same night as the fresh air from his home’s open windows on Bryant Street suddenly became not-so fresh. He woke everyone up and had them put on masks, wondering what was going on. They couldn’t even go out on their porch to look around because the air was so caustic.
Chris Masiello was in her kitchen around 3 a.m. when she was hit with a “God-awful odor” throughout her home that was coming from outside. She called 9-1-1 and no one ever responded, but operators assured her everything was all right and under control.
“It sure didn’t seem under control to me,” she said.
All of these people have one thing in common; they are neighbors on Bryant Street who live a short distance from Necco, and last Friday, Oct. 5th, they were downwind from what was nearly a disastrous ammonia spill at the plant.
The fire at Necco triggered a large leak of ammonia throughout the facility, and while the chemical was contained within the facility – a nasty vaporous odor travelled over to Bryant Street later that night and through the next morning.
The result was near panic within the neighborhood.
Everyone was awakened early in the morning.
Children were coughing uncontrollably. Adults were grasping at their eyes as some unknown force in the air seemed to turn their lives upside down.
No one knew what was going on, and two neighbors phoned the City’s 9-1-1 center. Calltakers reassured them that it was the result of the Necco fire, but everything was okay. Neighbors hoped that someone would come, a police officer might respond to see what they were experiencing, but no one ever came.
They were told everything was okay, but common sense seemed to indicate that things were not exactly hunky dory.
“A candy factory doesn’t sound too dangerous to live next to, but I guess it is a little scarier than you’d think,” said Giancarlo. “They use some dangerous chemicals over there and that’s what we experienced over here. They weren’t prepared.”
“You think of a candy factory as if it is Willy Wonka and a bunch of gumdrops, but what goes into making those gumdrops can really harm those around the factory, as we saw,” said David Jeglinski. “I called 9-1-1 and hung up baffled because they weren’t going to send anybody to save us. You’re used to somebody coming to help when you call 9-1-1, but we didn’t get a response. We were in a panic. This went on for hours and we couldn’t even go out on the porch it was so strong. We weren’t sure if we were safe or in danger and no one could tell us for certain. It would have been nice if there were a plan and some information for us.”
Added Sal Pani, Giancarlo’s father, “Obviously, no one was prepared to keep us safe. If there was something more than what happened, we would all have been harmed or could have died. They didn’t respond properly to see how bad it was here. They just felt like it looked ok. They didn’t keep in mind where the wind was blowing. When you’re 50 feet away, it doesn’t take much to get over here.”
Fire Chief Gene Doherty said this week that the odor in the neighborhood was very strong, and was certainly no small thing. However, he did say the state HazMat team used meters to check the neighborhoods and didn’t find any harmful ammonia levels.
“There was definitely a strong odor down there, but none of our readings exceeded 45 ppm,” he said. “We had people up and down the highway and in the neighborhoods too. If we ever thought there was a danger, we would be evacuating the area or telling them that they should shut their windows.
“There was definitely an odor, but none of the active product left the property,” he continued. “It was a strong odor. Even one of my firefighters who lives over there said it was very strong. If it was dangerous, we would have taken action, but the readings indicated it wasn’t something that was going to activate an alarm.”
Doherty said that all indications were that most of the odor in the neighborhoods had dissipated by 6 a.m. at the latest.
Necco officials were contacted via e-mail, but did not respond in time for this story.
Neighbors, though, disagree and said they were affected all through the night and the next morning.
“I noticed the odor when I woke up for work the next day, and then when I went outside it was 10 times worse,” said Giancarlo. “Even my skin was burning and my eyes were burning and I was getting a headache. It was like there was a chemical war overnight on our street. That’s what it was like. I had to leave quick and it didn’t stop burning until after I passed St. Anthony’s.”
Added David Jeglinski, “We were going to have a yard sale the next day and by 10 a.m. it was still so bad outside that we had to call it off.”
Masiello said that when Necco came in, she was very active in making sure that they were prepared for any accident – that they would be ready to protect neighbors in the event of a catastrophe or near catastrophe.
“They allegedly had problems before when they were in Cambridge and they promised us when they came here that they would take precautions and that this was different because it was new construction,” she said. “They promised at a large meeting that if there was a problem, they would give us information in a recorded call and that they would put together an Emergency Action Plan that addressed the neighbors. They’ve never done that. They aren’t exactly great neighbors.
“They have to give some type of notice when something like this happens near us, not just saying nothing and then we realize there’s a problem because we can’t breath in our own homes due to chemical vapors coming through the windows,” she continued. “We need that plan now. The Fire Chief is great and thorough and spot-on. He’s the one I want at the scene, and I’m confident in his abilities. Other people, not so much.”
Added David Jeglinski, “If this ruffles some feathers, then so be it. We came through this ok even though it was pretty scary. Nobody seemed to get hurt, but what if there is a next time and it’s more serious? Maybe if we speak out everyone will be ready.”