Iowa DNR emergency order stops C6-Zero from operating, claims water sources contaminated

Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 3:10 PM CST
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MARENGO, Iowa (KCRG) - The Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued an emergency order to stop C6-Zero from operating in the state of Iowa after its plant in Marengo exploded and injured more than ten people last week.

The order said the facility is “a clear threat to public health and the environment” and another “catastrophic event” is possible because the department doesn’t know what flammable chemicals and gases remain inside the damaged building.

This emergency order also said large run-off pools of contaminated water are flowing into Iowa’s groundwater and the Iowa River, which the report said is a water source for Iowa City and other municipalities. It also said the state tried to regulate the facility multiple times over the last two years, including days before the explosion.

According to C6-Zero, the company has the ability to turn used roof shingles into oil, fiberglass and sand. The company said it creates oil from dipping the shingle into a solution than putting into a machine. According to this report, an employee for C6 Zero told Iowa DNR it expected to process 800 tons of shingles per day with a storage capacity of 2,400 tons of shingles.

The report also said nearly half of the employees inside C6-Zero’s plant in Marengo were hurt in the explosion. It said injuries included severe burns, other traumas and two people remain in the University of Iowa’s burn unit. The report said one of those people is intubated and on a ventilator.

A GoFundMe page was created for one of the workers injured in the explosion named Cody Blasberg. According to the page’s organizer, he was severely burnt and was intubated and on a ventilator about seven days ago. Blasberg, according to the page, has a daughter and is expecting to become a father to twin boys in February.

According to this report, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said C6-Zero and Howard Brand, the company’s co-founder, have failed to comply with Iowa’s laws and regulations related to hazardous conditions, water quality, solid waste, and legitimate recycling laws. It also said the company is responsible to cover any costs resulting from the explosion and fire

“Additionally, the explosion and fire have resulted in violations of Iowa’s hazardous condition and water quality regulations,” the order said. “Pursuant to those regulations, the DNR has determined that C6-Zero and Howard Brand are the Responsible Parties for any and all remediation costs resulting from the explosion and fire.”

Marengo Police Chief Brian Gray said the fire department has filed a claim with C6-Zero’s insurance to pay for cleaning oil stains while fighting the fire, which could cost the city around $80,000.

The order requires the immediate stabilization of hazardous conditions and the removal of all solid waste on site. It also notes the department has the ability to issue fines for violations ranging from $1,000 every day to $10,000 every day.

Regulators in two different states found the company’s founder, Howard Brand, previously violated state laws around solid waste regulations. According to documents, The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fined Brand $27,500 in 2017 because he didn’t receive permission from the state agency to dispose of used asphalt roofing shingles under a different company.

About two years later, 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.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said it learned about issues related to Brand and his companies from regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the Texas Department of Environmental Quality and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as early as May 2021. Then, the report details a list of actions the department took to regulate the facility for a period longer than a year.

Those actions included conversations with employees on the phone, visits to C6-Zero’s plant, multiple meetings and multiple requests for information.

According to this report, the company didn’t allow DNR staff to enter and inspect the facility multiple times to check if asphalt shingles, like those on a roof, were in the facility. This meant DNR could only see outside of the building rather than the inside.

Logan Homer, who said he worked for C6-Zero Employee and received a paycheck from the company cited in the Colorado complaint, 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 also said the plant continually had chemical leaks, puddles of diesel oil across the plant’s floor and fires every other day.

A spokesperson for C6-Zero said Homer’s categorization of its’ plant is categorically false in a written statement.

According to city officials, the city of Marengo learned C6-Zero was using chemicals after a 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. The Department of Natural Resources said it continually asked the company to fill out the form and inspect the “back end” of facility’s operation after being denied, as late as three days before the explosion. This report explains the department continually wanted to see the entire facility, but was denied.

Brand consistently criticized regulators and said they created “mistruths” around the process in blog posts online, which have since been deleted.

“Regulatory agencies do not always understand new technologies,” he wrote. “Not understanding is human nature and assuming the worst is unfortunately another human trait as well.”

A spokesperson for C6 Zero said the company has already complied with multiple sections of the order and will remain closed in a written statement. He wrote the company believes it is exempt from air permits and it sent a document explaining why it is exempt to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“As C6-Zero continued to move from a pilot phase toward a production phase, the company was working with IDNR on regular testing to ensure C6-Zero continued to meet the requirements for the exemption, including two industrial carbon air filers in the Marengo facility to ensure proper air quality,” a C6-Zero spokesperson wrote. “IDNR viewed these units during their tour in November.”

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said it wasn’t allowed to see the full facility and it made no final determination on environmental requirements because C6-Zero had not provided all of the information necessary to complete the review.

Tammie Krausman, who is a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said in an email it made 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,” said Tammie Krausman, spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said in this order it found multiple large ankle-deep pools of unknown free product and/or contaminated water with a dark color and oily sheen, parts of the roof and wall missing, big piles of loose crushed shingles, at least two very large chemical vats containing flammable products, large patches of black stained soil and grass and large quantities of unknown chemicals in buckets, barrels, and gas tanks.

TV9 asked a spokesperson from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources a few follow-up questions about the report late Friday afternoon and didn’t hear back, as of publication.