A mistake at a northeast Kansas distilling plant in 2016 that released a noxious cloud of fumes forcing over 140 people to seek medical treatment, has led to two companies facing an indictment on federal charges.
The three-count indictment said Midwest Grain Products Inc., of Atchison, Kansas, and Harcros Chemicals Inc., of Kansas City, Kansas, violated the Clean Air Act and put the public in danger.
The indictment, which the U.S. attorney’s office unveiled Wednesday, said the chlorine gas cloud formed after a driver for Harcros pulled a truck into Midwest Grain’s facility in Atchison to deliver sulfuric acid.
An operator for Midwest Grain helped the driver access the transfer equipment. When the driver mistakenly connected the sulfuric acid line to the sodium hypochlorite line, toxic gas began to form. The indictment said both men violated safety rules by failing to verify the connection was correct and failed to monitor the transfer.
The noxious cloud covered the city for 45 minutes in October 2016 until emergency personnel arrived to turn off the flow. By then, 4,000 gallons of sulfuric acid and 5,800 gallons of sodium hypochlorite had mixed, prosecutors said.
That caused nearby homes and schools to evacuate in Atchison, which has about 11,000 residents and is about 50 miles (about 80 kilometers) northwest of Kansas City.
MGPI Processing Inc., the parent company of Midwest Grain Products, said in a statement that it is reviewing the allegations and “has been focused on the Atchison community, our employees and cooperating fully with safety officials since this incident.” A Harcros official didn’t immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
The companies are charged with violation of general duty, knowingly releasing a hazardous pollutant and negligently releasing a hazardous pollutant. The charges carry fines of up to $1.7 million.