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Iowa will replace firefighter gear damaged in Marengo fire
Over $600K will be paid using pandemic aid after C6-Zero failed to respond
Iowa Homeland Security will pay more than $600,000 to replace firefighting clothing and equipment damaged in a Dec. 8, 2022, explosion and fire in Marengo after the company whose plant exploded refused to pay.
The decision will allow more than 20 agencies that responded to the blaze to replace gear ruined by diesel fuel and a mysterious solvent stored at the plant operated by C6-Zero. Without the cash infusion from the state, some departments would be fighting fires with older, uncertified gear, said Josh Humphrey, Iowa County Emergency Management Agency coordinator.
“We’re very appreciative to get the fire departments back in operation,” he said.
The explosion injured a dozen employees, caused an evacuation of nearby houses and polluted soil and water because of chemicals stored at the site, where C6-Zero was attempting to dissolve used shingles into oil, sand and fiberglass.
The petroleum-based solvent left a tar-like coating on firefighters’ clothing that professional cleaning did not remove, Mark Swift, treasurer of the Marengo Fire Department, said in December.
Iowa County sent a demand letter to C6-Zero owner Howard Brand III on Jan. 17 asking the company to pay the $640,121 claim for damaged equipment. Iowa Code Section 455B.392 holds people “having control over a hazardous substance” liable to the state or other government body for “reasonable cleanup costs.”
Brand did not reply to that letter by the Feb. 1 deadline, Humphrey said.
The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will pay up to $640,000 from the Iowa Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Fund to replace the damaged gear, spokeswoman Lucinda Parker said in an email. That state fund includes money from the American Rescue Plan Act, authorized by Congress in 2021.
“Iowa County Emergency Management will submit an application to HSEMD that identifies the items to be replaced, along with the costs,” she said. “After HSEMD reviews and approves the application, Iowa County Emergency Management will then complete all purchases and submit reimbursement requests to HSEMD.”
Fire departments that will have equipment replaced by the state include Marengo, Victor, Millersburg, Williamsburg, Amana, North English, Ladora, Coralville, Tiffin, Cedar Rapids, Washington, Grinnell, Blairstown, Iowa City, North Liberty, Norway, Belle Plaine and Oxford.
Other agencies with damaged gear from the fire are the Iowa County Emergency Management, Linn County Hazardous Materials Team and Johnson County Emergency Management, according to Humphrey’s demand letter.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources signed a contract to pay an Indiana company $834,000 to remove toxic “forever chemicals” from water in a 12-million-gallon basin holding runoff from the C6-Zero fire. The Iowa DNR said it will seek reimbursement from C6-Zero for this cleanup.
On top of that, C6-Zero agreed in a court order last week to pay $333,580 to EcoSource, a Des Moines-based company, to clean up contaminated soil and water at the site. C6-Zero also committed to put $75,000 in a trust account to fund assessment and remediation work.
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