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Distilling Company Agrees to Pay $1 Million to Settle Case over Toxic Cloud that Swept over Atchison

The chemical release occurred early in the morning of October 21, 2016, after a chemical delivery truck owned by Harcros Chemicals inadvertently connected to the wrong chemical tank at the MGP plant. (Photo by U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board)

by Dan Margolies, Kansas News Service 

MGP Ingredients Inc., a leading producer of distilled spirits and specialty proteins and starches, has agreed to pay a fine of $1 million in connection with a toxic chemical release at its plant in Atchison, Kansas, three years ago.

MGP agreed to the fine after pleading guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge of negligently violating the Clean Air Act. U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree will decide whether to accept the plea at a hearing set for Feb. 24.

In exchange for MGP’s plea, the government agreed to dismiss two other charges against the company.

The chemical release occurred early in the morning of October 21, 2016, after a chemical delivery truck owned by Harcros Chemicals inadvertently connected to the wrong chemical tank at the MGP plant. The truck contained sulfuric acid, which, when mixed with the tank containing sodium hypochlorite, produced a dense green-yellow cloud of chlorine gas that wafted over Atchison for about 45 minutes.

Thousands of residents were ordered to shelter in place by the Atchison County Department of Emergency Management, and more than 140 people sought medical attention. One MGP employee and five members of the public were hospitalized.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board later concluded the incident could have been prevented through improved design of the chemical unloading area. The board found that MGP and Harcros shared responsibility for the accident.

Both MGP and Harcros were initially charged in March in connection with the accident. Harcros remains a defendant in the case, and last week the government filed a superseding charge alleging the company negligently released chlorine gas into the air and negligently placed other people “in imminent danger of serious bodily injury.”

A lawyer for Harcros did not return a call seeking comment.

In a statement, MGP said the plea agreement was “in the best interest of its stakeholders and (it) is ready to move forward after cooperating with federal, state, and local safety officials for the past three years.”

It noted the chemical safety board had commended its response, adding that MGP was committed “to ensuring the safety and well-being of employees and the communities in which it operates.”

A footnote in MGP’s plea agreement says the company voluntarily paid for medical care and property damage incurred by people affected by the chemical release.

MGP, a publicly traded company, traces its roots to 1941, when Cloud L. Cray Sr. began producing industrial alcohol for use during World War II. In addition to its operations in Atchison, it operates a distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, which it acquired about eight years ago. The company last year earned $37.2 million on revenues of $376 million.

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Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

 

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