C6-Zero Employee: Plant often had fires, chemicals on the ground and didn’t pay employees
Editor’s Note: Story has been updated to add C6-Zero’s statement
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Before an explosion at C6-Zero’s plant in Marengo, Logan Homer said he was driving to confront C6-Zero′s co-founder Howard Brand because he wasn’t fully paid for more than a month’s worth of work.
“I actually ended up losing a house, because of him [Brand] not paying me,” he said.
Homer wasn’t surprised the plant, which recycled roof shingles into oil along with other products exploded. He described to TV9 a plant with multiple problems creating safety hazards for employees including fires happening every other day due to machine malfunctions, chemical leaks, puddles of diesel oil across the plant’s floor and workers not having proper safety equipment like safety harnesses and hard hats.
Marengo Police Chief Ben Gray said on Tuesday the sprinkler system in C6-Zero’s plant wasn’t activated and hydrants on the property were not working. He said the reasons those fire safety protections weren’t working is part of their investigation, which includes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the State Fire Marshall’s Office.
According to documents from the city of Marengo, which our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received, firefighters spent around two hours responding to another fire in October. Those records show this was the only time firefighters responded to a fire in the plant, which was caused by a malfunctioning machine.
Homer said staff members would often use fire extinguishers to put out fires before they got out of control, like the fires on Thursday and in October.
According to city officials, the city of Marengo learned C6-Zero was using chemicals after the first fire in October. More than a month later, officials said they still didn’t know about the chemicals used in the building because the company did not file a required form called a Tier Two. Chief Gray said the fire department has filed a claim with C6-Zero’s insurance to avoid paying for cleaning oil stains, which could cost the city around $80,000.
Iowa County Emergency Management Coordinator Josh Humphrey said the company’s co-founder, Howard Brand, was extremely protective about the process his company used to recycle roof shingles into oil, fiberglass and sand.
Homer said C6-Zero instructed employees to not talk about the processes inside the plant and wouldn’t allow employees to take photos inside the facility. He said the company didn’t tell them the chemicals used in the process, which he described as a soybean line with roof shingles dipped in diesel thrown in a trample machine.
“They didn’t know what they were doing,” Homer said. “He [Brand] didn’t even know what they were doing.”
A spokesperson for C6 Zero said in a written statement Homer’s description of the plant, including the claim of having multiple fires, is “categorically false”.
“The safety of our employees is of paramount importance,” a spokesperson said.
C6 Zero sued for not paying bills
Homer wasn’t the only person having trouble getting Howard Brand and C6-Zero to pay him for work performed. Heartland Co-Op sued C6-Zero in November 2022 for refusing to pay for diesel fuel worth $130,000.
TMC Drafting Services, which is a scanning and drafting services company, sued C6-Zero and Howard Brand for not paying invoices around $25,000 in January 2022. According to court filings, TMC Drafting Services said it used 3D scanning services, equipment measurements, along with building and equipment modeling at their facility in Marengo.
TMC Drafting Services claimed Brand dissolved a similar-sounding company, C6, after receiving a letter demanding payment. TMC Drafting Services said Brand operated his companies as “sham entities” and uses them to “perpetuate fraud and/or promote injustice.”
Cassandra Alesch, who represented TMC Drafting Services, said the suit ended in a settlement.
According to court documents Brand and another similar-sounding company, C6 Zero Environmental, were also sued for not paying bills in April 2021. Tomorrow Transport LLC, which is based in Louisiana, said Brand didn’t pay for transport and delivery fees worth $3,000.
According to documents filed with the Security and Exchanges Commission in October 2021, C6 Iowa had no revenues.
Issues with Regulatory Agencies
Brand said the process he used to create oil took six years and investments worth millions to develop in blog posts online, which have since been deleted. He said regulators created “mistruths” around his process.
“Regulatory agencies do not always understand new technologies,” Brand wrote. “Not understanding is human nature and assuming the worst is unfortunately another human trait as well.”
Tammie Krausman, who is a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said in an email the department met with C6-Zero to learn about their manufacturing process to determine if environmental regulations applied. But, she said no final determination on environmental requirements had been made since the facility had not provided all of the information necessary to complete the review.
“C6Zero self-determined that they are exempt from air quality permits and that they were meeting all air quality requirements,” Krausman wrote.
TV9 asked the Iowa Department of Natural Resources if it could stop a company from operating, but a spokesperson for the department told TV9 it wouldn’t comment on the issue due to ongoing investigations.
Before coming to Marengo, Brand tried to create his company in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Officials for Bonners Ferry said Brand left the area after economic development coordinators had questions about the process his company used.
Before going to Bonners Ferry, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Brand along with another man violated the state’s Solid Wastes Disposal Sites and Facilities Act and Regulations Pertaining to Solid Waste Sites and Facilities. It is unclear if the company, which was called Brand Technologies, received a consequence for having unrecyclable material like 1,300 tons of waste asphalt shingles and other roofing debris on the ground.
Before coming to Colorado, a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gave Brand a $27,500 fine in 2017 because he didn’t receive permission from the state agency to dispose used asphalt roofing shingles under a different company called BrandLich Holdings LLC. After five years, a spokesperson for the state agency said the fine was paid in full during January 2022.
Copyright 2022 KCRG. All rights reserved.