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Newburyport plant where worker died to close permanently

The Newburyport chemical-processing plant where an employee died in an explosion earlier this year is shutting down, the company announced Monday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Newburyport chemical-processing plant where an employee died in an explosion earlier this year is shutting down, the company announced Monday. The facility hasn’t operated for months and production will not resume, according to PolyCarbon Industries, Inc., known as PCI.

Jack O’Keefe, 62, of Methuen, was killed in early May by the blast, which propelled a large industrial vat through the roof and into parking lot. The company, which has also been called PCI Synthesis and Seqens, lacked the proper safeguards that could have prevented the worker’s death, according to the results of a Labor Department investigation released earlier this month. The federal agency levied more than $298,000 in proposed penalties for 11 violations related to the production and drying of the chemical product Dekon 139, in addition to combustible dust hazards.

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The Newburyport factory has faced multiple citations and thousands of dollars in fines from federal regulators over repeated safety incidents in recent years. In February of 2020, an explosion blew a hole in the factory’s roof, and a chemical fire the next year forced a temporary shutdown.

The plant closure was first reported by The Daily News of Newburyport.

The company, which bills itself as “the largest small molecule drug substance manufacturer in New England,” has 24 manufacturing plants around the world and three research and development centers, including a lab in Devens, according to its website.

The Devens facility will remain open, and seven of the 18 current Newburyport employees are expected to transfer to the Devens site.

“This decision was not made lightly,” PCI said in a statement. “We are dedicated to supporting our affected employees by providing severance packages and job placement services.”

Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon said that the closure is the best outcome for the city. “I will sleep a little easier knowing they will never be operating with dangerous chemicals in our city again,” he said in an email. “Of course, I never want to see people lose their jobs, but that company was operating with incredibly dangerous materials very close to other businesses and our schools.”

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Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her @ktkjohnston.