Mass. chemical spill another Presstek setback

Presstek has begun reopening a western Massachusetts plant shut down by a chemical spill that caused nearby schools to be closed and the neighborhood to be evacuated, the Hudson-based printing equipment manufacturer announced on Thursday.

The spill – which mainly consisting of some 1,500 gallons of sulfuric acid, but includes a number of other hazardous substances — occurred Monday in South Hadley, near Amherst. The town declared a state of emergency and evacuated some 80 households around the plant. Some schools were closed on Tuesday, for fear that buses were contaminated. Neighbors and students started returning on Thursday.

In its press releases, Presstek stressed that the spill was contained on site, and the company was working with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to clean it up.

The shutdown halted the production of certain lines of the company’s digital and analog aluminum plates, but on Thursday morning the company said that it should be able to resume production within 36 hours. The company said it had enough inventory to meet current consumer needs and would not speculate about the potential impact on its business.

The spill is the latest setback for Presstek, whose stock dropped sharply after it announced at the end of September that it would not meet the expectations of a 10 percent growth rate. That, in turn, led to a class action suit on filed on Oct. 10 in U.S. District Court in Concord, which alleges that the company knew its earlier projections were too rosy. Presstek said it believed that the charges are baseless and plans to defend the action.

Last week, the company posted a net lose of $423,000, or a penny a diluted share, due to “execution failures” and “weaker then expected sales activity” as well as quality control problems. – BOB SANDERS

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