116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It shouldn’t have taken an explosion injuring up to 15 people and forcing an evacuation of nearby homes for state regulators to take strong action against a Marengo processing facility.
Thanks the reporting of The Gazette’s Erin Jordan, it’s clear the company’s conduct over the past year raised many red flags that should have caused a stronger response from state regulators.
The company, C6-Zero, claimed to use a proprietary chemical solution to dissolve asphalt shingles into base components, including fiberglass and oil. Although C6-Zero opened its plant in 2020, it still was in a “pilot program phase” when an explosion tore through the facility. Local officials confirmed that a fire suppression system was not activated and adjacent hydrants weren’t functioning.
C6-Zero declined repeated attempts by local officials and the state Department of Natural Resources to get a list of chemicals and other hazardous materials stored on site. Such documents are required to be filed on March 1 of each year.
“Normally we’d get an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) sheet from the people. We will know what we’ve got. We could look it up and know what the hazards are,” Marengo firefighter Mark Swift told Jordan. “We didn’t know what the hell was in there.”
DNR staff first spoke with company employees on May 13, 2021, and were told by company owner Howard Brand his reverse manufacturing of shingles was not subject to Iowa environmental regulations. He also said the company had a “clean bill of health” in other states where the company operated.
But by late May 2021, the DNR discovered problems in Colorado and Texas where the company stockpiled shingles. In December 2021, a DNR visit to the facility showed no stockpile at that time.
But in April 2022, the company denied access to the facility by DNR staff.
Instead of providing required documents and access to the plant for inspection, C6-Zero hired a political strategy firm, LS2 Group, and one of its operatives, former chief of staff to Gov. Terry Branstad Jeff Boeyink, to help the company deal with state regulators.
For five months, the company continued not responding to questions from the DNR about the operation. DNR staff were allowed to tour the facility on Nov. 9, but the tour was cut short by C6-Zero staff. On Dec. 5, the DNR contacted Boeyink about unfiled, required information. Boeyink said he would pass it along. The DNR did not get an answer.
On Dec. 8 there was an explosion and fire in the plant. Roughly a week later, the state ordered the Marengo plant to cease operations and develop a plan for removing its shingle stockpile.
We understand the difficulties of regulating a business that refuses to cooperate. But along this timeline were several red flag moments when the DNR should have used its authority to demand answers, including shutting down the plant until they received them. That lack of information put the safety of firefighters, other first respondents and Marengo residents in jeopardy.
It’s hard not to conclude that Iowa’s environmental regulatory structure once again failed to prioritize the public good over a business with the right connections. But we’ll know for sure once the litigation begins.
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