Fires at Chem Plants Bring Settlement

Friday, October 30, 2015 @ 11:10 AM gHale

Fires and explosions at chemical distribution plants in Iowa and Kansas eight years ago led to a $1.1 million civil penalty for the plants’ owner, Barton Solvents Inc., federal officials said.

The proposed settlement, reached with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) resolves multiple environmental complaints at five of Barton’s chemical blending and distribution facilities in Iowa, Wisconsin and Kansas, the agencies said.

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The feds said Clean Air Act violations resulted in explosions and major blazes at two Barton facilities in 2007: One in Des Moines, IA, and one in Valley Center, KN. No one suffered serious injuries in either incident, which were four months apart.

In Des Moines, charred 55-gallon drums shot into the air like missiles, and the fire burned uncontrollably for several hours. Smoke was visible at least 30 miles away.

The federal agencies said the blazes “led to damage of the facilities, nearby businesses and the evacuation of the facilities and the surrounding communities.”

Barton, which accepted no liability with the settlement, said it does not agree with all the complaints. But it has agreed to an independent audit to clarify its obligations and ensure future compliance.

“We have fully cooperated with the EPA during its investigation, and we are pleased that this is resolved so we can move forward,” said Dave Casten, Barton Solvents’ president.

“We have made a host of improvements to our operations since the incident, which build upon our already stringent safety efforts and allow us to continue providing quality product and timely operations for our customers,” Casten said.

The federal agencies said comprehensive environmental audits will end up conducted at Barton blending and packaging processes facilities in Bettendorf, Council Bluffs, Kansas City and El Dorado in Kansas, and West Bend, WI, in addition to Des Moines, the government said. The Valley Center facility ended up closed.

The federal agencies said EPA inspections at the Barton facilities, along with information collected by the EPA, found widespread violations of federal and state hazardous waste storage requirements, the agencies said.

“When companies handling dangerous chemicals fail to comply with environmental laws, catastrophic events can happen,” said Mark Hague, EPA’s Region 7 acting regional administrator.

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