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Is A SoyChlor Plant Killing Animals, People, And Children In Jefferson Iowa?
On October 28, 2005, over 250 residents of Jefferson, Iowa, represented by attorneys from LaMarca & Landry, PC, filed suit against West Central Cooperative in the Iowa District Court for Greene County. The parties in this lawsuit include homeowners, business owners and people who work at nearby workplaces, such as MicroSoy, Electrolux and American Concrete.
Causes of action include nuisance, negligence, trespass, res ipsa loquitur, and strict liability for performing an abnormally dangerous activity. The claims stem from numerous environmental and health changes that have occurred since Soy Chlor’s Jefferson, Iowa plant began operations on February 14, 2005. These problems stem primarily from the emission of hydrogen chloride, hydrochloric acid and particulates at the plant. Soy Chlorine containing one or both of these chemicals. Soy Chlorine is a patented dairy cattle feed additive that combines hydrochloric acid with soy product.
The lawsuit also alleges violations of West Central Cooperative’s IDNR operating permit for this plant, as well as violations of the Hazardous Chemicals Act and other applicable environmental laws and standards of care.
West Central opened the business – SoyChlor – in February. Since then, emissions from the plant have corroded metal buildings and other property within a mile of the plant, the lawsuit alleges. The discharges have also killed grass and other vegetation, eliminated wildlife, destroyed windows and bleached surrounding structures and road rocks, the plaintiffs allege.
The plaintiffs allege the plant exceeded legal limits for emissions of hydrogen chloride and “particulate matter,” or dust. When combined with moisture, the chemical turns into hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive substance known to be toxic to humans and animals.
“It’s plain as day, from my front window,” said Jeb Ball, owner of a used car business west of the SoyChlor plant on Jefferson’s north side. “I have to look at it every day.”
“We think we’re in compliance now,” said Nile Ramsbottom, vice president of soy and feed operations at Ralston-based West Central, but he added that the company plans to increase the height of SoyChlor’s emissions tower to 94 feet in a step wider. disperse emissions and dilute their presence in the soil. West Central also plans to install an additional scrubber system, Ramsbottom said, adding that those steps combined would be more than enough to ensure the plant’s emissions meet legal limits.
The company has asked the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which oversees manufacturing plant emissions, to allow the changes.
Dave Phelps, who oversees the DNR section that oversees such permits, said the department was prepared to grant the company’s request, but he also expects to have a public comment period and public hearing on the issue this month. He also said recent testing showed the plant’s dust emission rate exceeded the limit allowed by state law.
George LaMarca, a Des Moines attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case, said a hearing and the opportunity for public input are good steps, but ones that should have been taken before the plant opened.
Ball, the owner of the used car business, said Monday that his son, Colton Conroy, 15, has been sickened by SoyChlor emissions. A month ago, a high school sophomore collapsed in a football game, and a treating physician blamed SoyChlor emissions for health problems that first appeared after the plant opened.
Since his collapse, the teenager has been living with his maternal grandparents south of the city and his symptoms have subsided, said Ball and his wife, Diane Conroy.
“He could run track and play football and everything a year ago, and he had no problem,” Ball said.
SoyChlor uses hazardous materials, including hydrogen chloride, to make a patented product added to the feed of dairy cows. Hydrogen chloride is a noxious gas that can be toxic to humans and animals.
When it mixes with moisture, it turns into hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive substance capable of eating away at the bottom of a vehicle, gouging glass and killing wildlife and vegetation — all of which, residents say, has happened in “the area of decline”, an area. extending a mile or more in each direction from the plant. Gas, acid, and particles contaminated by the gas or acid are emitted through a stack located atop a concrete tower at the north end of the plant.
“In Iowa, when you live in a community this size, you accept it because it’s agriculture,” said Jeff Ostendorf, a Jefferson cattle producer who works at MicroSoy Corp., a maker of soy-based food ingredients located across the street from SoyChlor. “This is different.”
Bonnie Burkhardt lives south of SoyChlor, across the street. One day last week, she flipped through notebooks and three-ring binders in which she has kept meticulous records of communications about the dispute with public officials, company officials and others in the community.
A notebook detailed the potentially harmful effects of the toxic substances used by SoyChlor, along with reports from doctors treating Burkhardt and others who say they have suffered health setbacks this year.
The once lively children now sleep a lot and lose energy quickly, families say. Colton Conroy, a 15-year-old who was just over 6 feet tall, became easily bloated and began to lose weight, his mother said. Adults with respiratory illnesses, including Norma Gross and Ron Lawton, said they got better with medical treatments, but now say they’ve gotten worse.
Last year, Gross was doing well, despite chronic lung disease. But after SoyChlor was opened, she quickly lost ground, struggling to breathe. Her doctors at University Hospitals in Iowa City, where she has been participating in a research project, asked her to leave, she said. But she is a lifelong resident, and she and her husband have raised 10 children here. Gross doesn’t want to live anywhere else.
Also alarming to Gross and Burkhardt is the loss of wildlife. They said the pigeons that perched atop the tall grain storage structures north of the SoyChlor plant have disappeared. Gone are the bluebirds, cardinals, goldfinches and other birds that perched on the many feeders in the Gross backyard. She hasn’t seen a bird in weeks.
“It was like all of a sudden there were no birds, not even sparrows,” said Gross, who lives in a regular trailer park within a mile of the plant.
In addition, stains have appeared on the bottom of vehicles and on the walls of houses and other buildings, and even on mailboxes.
Jefferson residents said the West Central insurer had hired a Florida firm to clean the vehicles affected by the emissions. They also said the insurer had offered checks of up to several hundred dollars to residents claiming property damage, although recipients were required to sign a form releasing the co-op and its affiliates from further claims.
Burkhardt said she first noticed something was wrong when her skin burned while she was working in the flower garden. Eventually, she took him inside, where she would take a shower to stop the burning. That was last spring, after she spent a few months in Florida with her husband, Chuck.
At the same time, Arletta Tasler and her husband returned from a winter in Texas. They both developed coughs that have lasted for months, they said. Sometimes, Tasler said, she has coughed so hard she vomited.
Like Burkhardt, the Taslers had no idea about the cause.
Burkhardt and her friend Diane Conroy talked to neighbors and people who worked in nearby businesses. Within a mile of Burkhardt’s home, they found dozens of people reporting similar symptoms. They had first noticed a strange smell, like the smell of a bag of empty beer cans left in the hot sun for a day, Conroy said.
Then came the health problems. Then stains on vehicles and buildings. Then film on windows and windshields that cleaning couldn’t remove. And some noticed that their glasses were pitted.
The women searched the Internet for information about SoyChlor and the chemicals it used.
The more they learned, the more convinced they were that SoyChlor was the culprit.
“If you get this on your wall, if it’s pitted, think about what it’s doing to your lungs,” said Tasler, who lives with her 49-year-old husband, Shorty, on a farm directly east of the plant where they they raised eight children.
Burkhardt, Conroy and others contacted the city’s sewer chief, the public health nurse and the editor of the local newspaper. They began contacting the government — environmental and safety regulators, Iowa’s US senators, even the White House.
Conroy and her husband, Jeb Ball, contacted their attorney in Des Moines. He referred them to George LaMarca, another Des Moines attorney. LaMarca knew how deadly hydrogen chloride could be. The gas had incapacitated some of the victims in Des Moines’ deadliest fire ever, which engulfed the Younkers department store in the Merle Hay Mall on November 5, 1978. LaMarca represented the victims’ survivors in court proceedings that lasted years and ultimately resulted in a undisclosed settlement for plaintiffs.
He has only five words for the cooperative: “We want the factory to close.”
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