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Is A SoyChlor Plant Killing Animals, People, And Children In Jefferson Iowa?
On October 28, 2005, more than 250 residents of Jefferson, Iowa, represented by the attorneys of LaMarca & Landry, PC, filed suit against West Central Cooperative in the Iowa District Court for Greene County. The parties in the lawsuit include homeowners, business owners and individuals who work at nearby employment sites such as Microsoi, Electrolux and American Concrete.
Causes of action include nuisance, negligence, trespass, res ipsa loquitur and strict liability for carrying out an unusually dangerous activity. The claims stem from numerous environmental and health changes that have occurred since West Central Cooperative’s Jefferson, Iowa soy chlorine plant began operations on February 14, 2005. These problems are caused by the emission of hydrogen chloride, hydrochloric acid and particulate matter from the soy chlorine plant. containing one or both of these chemicals. Soy Chlor is a patented dairy cattle feed supplement that combines hydrochloric acid with a soy product.
The lawsuit also alleges violations of West Central Cooperative’s IDNR operating permit for the plant, as well as violations of the Hazardous Chemical Hazards Act and other environmental laws and applicable standards of care.
A business – Soychlor – opened in February in the West Midlands. Since then, emissions from the plant have corroded metal buildings and other property within a mile of the plant, the lawsuit claims. The emissions have also killed grass and other vegetation, killed wildlife, shattered windows and discolored surrounding structures and road rocks, the plaintiffs say.
The plaintiffs claim the plant exceeded legal limits for emissions of both hydrogen chloride and “particulate matter,” or dust. When combined with moisture, the chemical turns into hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive substance that is toxic to humans and animals.
“It’s plain as day out my front window,” said Jeb Ball, owner of a used car business west of the Soychlor plant north of Jefferson. “I have to see it every day.”
“We think we’re in compliance now,” said Nile Ramsbottom, vice president of soy and nutrition operations at Ralston-based West Central, but added that the company plans to expand the height of Soychlor’s emissions tower to 94 feet more widely. Dispersing emissions and reducing their presence on land. West Central also plans to install additional scrubbing systems, Ramsbottom said, adding that those combined steps will be 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 approve the changes.
Dave Phelps, who oversees the DNR division that oversees such permits, said the department is prepared to grant the company’s request, but he expects to hold a public comment period and public hearing on the matter this month. He also said that recent testing showed that the plant’s dust emission rate exceeded the limits allowed by state law.
Des Moines attorney George LaMarca, who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the public hearing and opportunity for public input are good steps, but should have been taken before the plant opened.
Ball, who owns a used car business, said Monday that his son, Colton Conroy, 15, has been sickened by Soychlor emissions. A month earlier, a high school sophomore collapsed at a football game, and treating doctors blamed soychlor emissions for the health problems that first arose after the plant opened.
Since his collapse, the teenager has lived with his grandparents on the city’s south side 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 problems,” Ball said.
SoyChlor uses hazardous materials including hydrogen chloride to create a patented product for feeding dairy cows. Hydrogen chloride is a noxious gas that can be toxic to humans and animals.
When it mixes with moisture, it becomes hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive substance capable of eating away at motor vehicle finishes, pitting glass and killing wildlife and plants — all of which occurred, residents say, in the “fallout zone.” An extension of a mile or more in each direction from the plant. Gas, acid, and particles tainted by gas or acid are emitted from stacks that sit 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 livestock producer who works at Microsoy Corp., a soy-based food ingredient maker just down the street from SoyChlor. “It’s different.”
Bonnie Burkhart lives across the street, south of Soyclore. One day last week, she paged through a notebook and three-ring binder in which she has kept meticulous track of communications about the dispute with public officials, company officials and others in the community.
A notebook details the potentially harmful effects of the toxins used by SoyChlor, along with reports from medical doctors who treated Burkhardt and said he suffered health shocks this year.
Formerly energetic children now sleep too much and lose energy early, families say. Colton Conroy, 15, a 6-foot-tall pushback, got winded easily and began to lose weight, his mother said. Adults with respiratory illnesses, including Norma Gross and Ron Lawton, said they were getting better with medical treatment, but now they have gotten worse.
Despite chronic lung disease, Gross was doing well last year. But after opening Soychlor, she quickly lost ground, struggling to breathe. Her doctors at University Hospitals in Iowa City, where she is participating in a research project, told her to go away. But she is a lifelong resident, and she and her husband raised 10 children here. Gross wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Also of concern to Gross and Burkhardt is the loss of wildlife. He said the roosting pigeons on the tall grain storage structure north of the Soychlor plant are gone. Bluejays, cardinals, goldfinches and other birds flocked to numerous feeders in Gross’s backyard. She hasn’t seen a bird in weeks.
“All of a sudden there were no birds, not even sparrows,” said Gross, who lives in a tidy trailer park about a mile from the plant.
In addition, stains are found on vehicle finishes and siding on homes and other buildings, even mailboxes.
Jefferson residents said West Central’s insurance company has hired a Florida company to clean vehicles affected by the emissions. He also said the insurance company offered checks of up to several hundred dollars to residents claiming property damage, although recipients were required to sign forms releasing the co-op and its associates from further claims.
Burkhart said she realized something was wrong when her skin burned while working in the flower garden. Eventually, she took her indoors, where she would bathe to stop the inflammation. It was last spring, after she had spent several months in Florida with her husband, Chuck.
At the same time, Arletta Tassler and her husband returned from a winter in Texas. Both of them developed a cough that lasted for months, he said. At times, Tasler said, she coughed so hard she vomited.
Like Burckhardt, the Tasslers had no clue about the cause.
Burkhart and her friend Diane Conroy talked to neighbors and people who worked in nearby businesses. Within a mile of Burkhart’s home, they found dozens of people reporting similar symptoms. Conroy said he first noticed a strange smell, like the smell of a bag of empty beer cans that had been left out in the sun for a day.
Then came the health problems. Then stains on vehicles and buildings. Then the filminess on the windows and windshield that scrubbing couldn’t remove. And some noticed that their glasses were pitted.
The women searched the Internet for information on soychlor and the chemicals used in it.
The more they learned, the more convinced they were that the culprit was soychlor.
“If you get this on your siding, if it gets pitted, think about what it’s doing to your lungs,” said Tassler, who lives with her husband of 49 years, Shorty, directly east of the plant where they raised eight children.
Burkhart, Conroy, and others contacted the head of the city sanitation department, a public health nurse, and the editor of the local newspaper. He began contacting the government — environmental and safety regulators, US senators from Iowa, even the White House.
Conroy and her husband, Jeb Ball, contacted their attorney in Des Moines. He referred them to another Des Moines attorney, George LaMarca. LaMarca knew how dangerous hydrogen chloride could be. Some victims were incapacitated by the gas in Des Moines’ deadliest fire ever, which engulfed the Younkers store at Merle Hay Mall on November 5, 1978. LaMarca represented the victims’ survivors in a lawsuit that lasted several years, and finally, it paid off. Undisclosed settlement for plaintiffs.
He has just five words for the co-op: “We want to close the plant.”
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