On Your Side Update: Chemical spill at Verona, Mo. plant

Published: May. 8, 2023 at 9:36 PM CDT
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VERONA, Mo. (KY3) - It was one year ago when first responders near the BCP Ingredients plant in Verona alerted On Your Side they were never told about the spill. It prompted a surprise inspection by the EPA. Government agents found more than a dozen violations at the plant. So, did the plant fix those problems?

It’s not just this latest unannounced inspection. For decades, the town has had a pollution problem. The plant was acquired by Syntex in 1969. A chemical used in agent orange, dioxin, was found. In 1983 it was deemed a superfund site. In the early 2000s, BCP Ingredients took over. The company now makes choline chloride for feed and animal supplements. They have admitted to last April’s spill. Workers were moving ethylene oxide from a rail car to the plant when it was released.

As we’ve told you before, government data shows this is one of the most toxic places in the United States. It’s considered a hot spot. Folks 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.

A 30-year-old mother of four, Cheyenne Newman, recently found out she has stage three breast cancer. “They’re ruining families, and it’s not okay,” she said.

Last spring, she says she took her kids to play in the creek behind BCP.

“About the same time that spill happened. We had no idea the dangers that we were putting myself in or my kids in at that time,” she said.

The April 2022 spill was nearly 1,300 pounds of ethylene oxide. The pollution research mentions it cannot be used to tie individual cancer cases to emissions from specific industrial facilities. Ethylene oxide is a colorless gas the EPA says can lead to cancer if you breathe enough of it. The National Cancer Institute says it increases the risk of breast cancer.

“It’s not fair people that don’t know the exposure to have to live with that before it’s too late,” said Newman.

The Vineyard family of six siblings knows cancer too. A couple of family members worked at the plant.

“It’s just the three of us,” said Sue Downs.

“My oldest brother passed away two weeks ago from liver cancer. My next oldest brother passed away from lung cancer. I’ve personally had lung cancer. I beat it. Last week, I was diagnosed last week with liver cancer,” said Mark Vineyard.

Then there’s Verona Alderman Joseph Heck. He just lost his wife to cancer.

“Knowing that I can’t do anything as a parent and as a man, and I can’t go over there and fix the problem, it hurts,” he said.

In our previous report, we told you how the EPA found 16 violations. One was problems with emergency coordination after the spill. The Verona fire chief says he didn’t know about the spill until it was over.

In the fall of 2022, BCP first objected to those EPA violations. It wrote back on many with the defense of the company does not want to disclose information because it might hurt business, saying it’s confidential business information.

“It has gone too far. I don’t know how they sleep at night,” said Downs.

Then the EPA and BCP reached an agreement to fix the violations. In the order of compliance, BCP agreed to improve communication ‘at least annually and more frequently.’ It’s been a year. City leaders say that has not happened.

“Nothing has changed. It could still happen today if you want my opinion,” said Heck.

The inspection report showed at least one ethylene oxide sensor inside the plant was not working. The report states EPA inspectors had handheld monitors showing ethylene oxide in the room at 2 parts per million. The sensor in the plant reads zero. Last week On Your Side asked a BCP spokesperson if this sensor is fixed. We haven’t heard back.

Now the EPA has sent an Information Request to BCP. It’s a nine-page document asking specific questions about ethylene oxide emissions. The EPA wants to know about the ‘lifecycle of ethylene oxide from arrival to facility exit.’ It also wants to know if any wastewater streams contain the carcinogen. BCP’s response is not available yet. There are deadlines listed, and there could be penalties ‘of up to $55,808 for each day of continued noncompliance’

The EPA told On Your Side:

“The Agency’s current focus is addressing noncompliance and reducing the potential for accidental releases that may impact worker safety or harm the community.”

Once again, BCP declined our request for an interview but gave this statement.

“BCP Ingredients remains committed to working with the EPA and other agencies in a responsive and transparent manner to ensure that our facility continues to be safe for our employees and the surrounding community of Verona.” - BCP Ingredients

Since the surprise inspection, the EPA asked for what’s called stack testing. It measures the amount of a specific pollutant coming from the plant. That was done in February. When those results are available, we’ll share them.

For years, city leaders asked the EPA to test the air quality around town. Since the spill, the EPA placed three air monitors around town for a few weeks. They plan to study those results - and release that information during a public meeting this summer. We don’t have the date for that meeting yet.

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