Rouse gets OK to begin cleanup

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 1, 2002

[08/1/02]The federal agency leading the investigation into the May 16 explosion and fire at Rouse Polymerics has given approval for the firm to begin cleaning up most of its plant site.

The site, on U.S. 61 South, has been inoperative and under the control of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since shortly after the fire.

Twelve men were injured in the explosion, five of whom died from a few hours to two weeks later. Two remain inoutpatient therapy during the work week at the regional burn center in Greenville. Four were admitted there and have been discharged. The other man was treated and released at a hospital the night of the explosion.

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Rouse produces powdered rubber made by grinding tires and other scraps, and used in the manufacture of tires and other products.

The Jackson area OSHA director, Clyde Payne, said Wednesday that the main area that has not been released to Rouse was the unit the plant used to package its products in bags.

“We can’t get to the top of the thing safely,” Payne said of the bagging unit.

That unit will have to be removed from the plant using a crane so investigators can use an aerial lift to inspect parts of the top of it, he said.

“We don’t have exactly what went wrong,” Payne said of OSHA’s continuing investigation into the explosion.

“We’re probably a few months away from delivering a final report,” Payne said. “We still have a lot of material off at the lab for testing, and we’re getting some expert assistance.”

Company CEO Michael Rouse has said the company plans to rebuild on its current site, but will not until he knows what caused the fire.

On Wednesday he said the company, which employed approximately 100 people and was in operation at the time of the fire, continues to employ seven people, all in management and clerical functions.

“I don’t know the extent of damage to equipment in the plant,” Rouse said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

The company would resume operations in part of one of its buildings with a smaller, state-of-the-art process, Rouse said.

Before operations could resume, though, the company needs to hear from its insurance company, complete certain applications to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and do about 90 to 120 days of site cleanup, Rouse said.

The company’s wet-grinding process is patented, and that makes it the only supplier to many of its customers, Rouse said.

“We’re working to secure some of our customers now,” Rouse said.