Two companies have been indicted on federal charges after a mistake at a northeast Kansas distilling plant in 2016 released a noxious cloud of fumes that prosecutors say caused more than 140 people to seek medical treatment.
The three-count indictment alleges that Midwest Grain Products Inc., of Atchison, Kansas, and Harcros Chemicals Inc., of Kansas City, Kansas, violated the Clean Air Act and put the public in danger. The indictment, which the U.S. attorney’s office announced, alleges that the chlorine gas cloud formed after a driver for Harcros pulled a truck into Midwest Grain’s facility in Atchison to deliver sulfuric acid.
An operator for Midwest Grain helped the driver access the transfer equipment. When the driver mistakenly connected the sulfuric acid line to the sodium hypochlorite line, toxic gas began to form. The indictment alleges both men violated safety rules by failing to verify that the connection was correct and failing to monitor the transfer.
The noxious cloud covered the city for 45 minutes in October 2016 until emergency personnel arrived to turn off the flow. By then, 4,000 gallons (15,141 liters) of sulfuric acid and 5,800 gallons (21,954 liters) of sodium hypochlorite had mixed, prosecutors say.
That caused nearby homes and schools to evacuate in Atchison, which has about 11,000 residents and is about 50 miles (about 80 kilometers) northwest of Kansas City. A webpage , a phone line and an email address have been set up for victims to provide and receive information.
MGPI Processing Inc., the parent company of Midwest Grain Products, said in a statement that it is reviewing the allegations and “has been focused on the Atchison community, our employees and cooperating fully with safety officials since this incident.” A Harcros official didn’t immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
The companies are charged with violation of general duty, knowingly releasing a hazardous pollutant and negligently releasing a hazardous pollutant. The charges carry fines of up to $1.7 million.
The Midwest Grain plant has had other incidents, including a small explosion in another building in February 2016 in which no injuries were reported. The plant was also the site of a 2002 explosion and fire that damaged the plant’s distillery and injured a few people.
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