On Your Side Investigation: EPA Inspection finds 16 deficiencies at Verona, Mo. chemical plant

Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 7:54 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2022 at 9:40 PM CDT
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VERONA, Mo. (KY3) - A plant in the Ozarks the EPA says emits dangerous chemicals linked to cancer is on notice.

The Environmental Protection Agency did an unannounced inspection. Inspectors found more than a dozen problems that could lead to fines and penalties for BCP Ingredients.

New government data shows that about twenty places stand out as the most toxic when it comes to industrial air pollution. One of them is in Lawrence County. People who live near the BCP Ingredients plant have a greater lifetime risk of getting cancer. It’s twenty-seven times the EPA’s acceptable risk.

After this On Your Side report last year, the EPA hosted a town-hall meeting to talk about the pollution. In March, the Missouri Department of Health launched a cancer study for the town.

In April, there was a chemical spill at the plant. In June, EPA workers showed up unannounced and did an inspection. That inspection report was just made public. The EPA won’t talk about it on camera but did confirm the report and answered a few of our emailed questions.

From the Verona Fire Department, you can see BCP Ingredients. It’s less than a quarter mile away. The fire chief says no one told him about the April chemical spill of nearly 1,300 pounds of ethylene oxide.

“If we don’t know about it, then it’s kind of hard to respond to anything,” said Aaron Siegrist, Chief of Aurora Rural Fire Protection District.

He found out about the leak days later from city hall workers who say a whistleblower called.

“If we don’t have communication with the company and the city, then we are never going to get past this,” said Siegrist.

The latest EPA inspection shows that’s a big problem. It’s listed as one of the sixteen deficiencies and says: The facility has not conducted emergency response coordination activities annually.

“We used to tour it once a year. It has been at least five years since we have toured,” said Siegrist.

Since the inspection, the report says BCP has taken steps to improve communication.

In the spring, BCP leaders told KY3 News they alerted the EPA, National Response Center, State Emergency Response Commission, and the Local Emergency Planning Committee, which is the Lawrence County Emergency Management, Director. But folks close to the spill say they had no idea.

“Nobody knew about it until it was all over,” said Peggy Paynter. Paynter is a cancer survivor. She’s lived next to the plant all of her life.

“I just can’t sit back and not say anything. It’s like we are here, and we could get blown off the map, and nobody cares whether our kids are breathing fresh air or whatever. The truth comes out one of or the other,” she said.

The April report reads employees noticed icing on the side of a railcar. The spill happened when an ethylene oxide railcar was emptied into the storage tanks. Two employees must witness the transfer. Only one person was on the job. The report says the one camera in the area was instead pointing at another platform and not on the transfer.

“They don’t have their cameras pointing. They’re not following the rules,” said Mayor Joseph Heck of the city of Verona.

The report goes on to say the leak lasted for seven hours. Some alarms were not working because of flood damage from rains more than one year ago.

“There’s no accountability It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Paynter.

One of the sixteen deficiencies is the worst-case scenario plan at the plant. The Hazard Assessment should be updated at least every five years. According to the EPA inspector, the latest BCP Hazard Assessment was prepared nearly twenty years ago, in October of 2004.

During a facility walk-through, an ethylene oxide monitor was not working.

Heck says this unannounced inspection is progress, but along with pollution, tension is in the air here.

“Ashley, I’m going to be really honest with you right now. I don’t trust anybody with the EPA. I don’t trust anyone with BCP at this time. I think that we might be heading in the right steps. Now we actually got it on paper that they have messed up,” said Heck.

KY3 News has covered this plant for decades. It was acquired by Syntex in 1969. Dioxin was found. In 1983 it was deemed a superfund site. In the early 2000s, BCP Ingredients took over, a supplier of choline chloride for feed and animal supplements. Recently, the plant paid more than $65,000 in penalties to the U.S. Department of Labor for serious safety and health violations. It has agreed to pay an additional $105,000.

This EPA inspection letter reads the plant could face up to nearly $52,000 a day in fines if they don’t respond.

BCP Ingredients tells On Your Side it’s working with the EPA. Our interview request was declined, but we received this statement:

BCP Ingredients takes the health and safety of our employees, neighbors in the community, and the environment very seriously. We are reviewing the EPA’s report ... and will be submitting a formal response to the EPA in a timely manner once our review is complete. We remain committed to working with the EPA to ensure that our facility continues to be safe for our employees and the surrounding community.

“If they do fine them, I think the money should go to Verona so we could our own air monitoring testing from a third party,” said Heck.

The EPA confirmed the next step is an emissions test in Verona. BCP hired another company to develop the plan, and it is scheduled for later in September.

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