Demolition begins at Newburyport pharmaceutical plant after deadly explosion

Newburyport firefighters examine the debris on Thursday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Newburyport firefighters examine the debris on Thursday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A major portion of the Newburyport pharmaceutical plant that exploded last week, killing one worker, is scheduled for demolition Wednesday.

Crews are set to tear down the damaged building after days of cleaning up hazardous materials at the Seqens/PCI Synthesis plant, which manufactures ingredients for drug makers and researchers. Workers needed to take care to prevent different chemicals stored in large containers from interacting with each other. The building's structure had to be held up by a crane so hazmat technicians could enter the facility.

At around 1 a.m. Thursday, an explosion tore through the roof. The powerful blast catapulted a vat from inside the building 30 feet into the adjacent parking lot, fire officials said.

At least five workers were inside at the time of the incident — four of them were taken to the hospital without injuries, while one worker, later found dead, was not discovered for several hours. Emergency responders could not immediately search the full premises due to concerns the building was unsafe. Officials later recovered the body of the missing worker and identified him as 62-year-old Jack O'Keefe, of Methuen.

Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon said the investigation into what caused the explosion could take years. The company has been forced to halt its operations, he said.

Reardon added the company is unlikely to continue its business in the near future, and that the city would "take really seriously" any plans for Seqens/PCI Synthesis to re-open.

Thursday's explosion is the third safety incident at the plant since 2020.


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Vanessa Ochavillo Associate Producer
Vanessa Ochavillo is an associate producer for WBUR focused on digital news.



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