TOPEKA – MGP Ingredients, Inc., and Harcros Chemicals, Inc., today were fined $1 million each for violating the federal Clean Air Act when a cloud of toxic chlorine gas was released over Atchison, Kan., in 2016, U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said. Both companies have paid the fines.
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree sentenced the companies during a hearing in federal court in Topeka Wednesday. Both companies pleaded guilty to negligently violating the Clean Air Act, which is a Class A misdemeanor earlier this year.
In their pleas, they admitted that on Oct. 21, 2016, a greenish-yellow chlorine gas cloud formed at MGP Ingredients’ facility in Atchison when 4,000 gallons of sulfuric acid were mistakenly combined with 5,800 gallons of sodium hypochlorite. The Atchison County Department of Emergency Management ordered community members to shelter in place and to evacuate in some areas. Approximately 140 individuals including members of the public, first responders, employees of MGP Ingredients and Harcos Chemicals sought medical attention.
In addition to the fines, both companies were each ordered to pay a $125,000 statutory victim special assessment fee. Payments of fines are to be immediate. The companies have the right to appeal their respective sentences within 14 days after entry of the judgement. Remaining counts in superseding indictments involving the incidents were also dismissed.
“The chemicals involved in this case posed serious public health and environmental dangers,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Cate Holston of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Kansas. “EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to holding responsible parties accountable for actions that put an entire community at risk.”
During the hearing, it was acknowledged that the incident was an accident based on negligence by both parties not of any criminal intent. MGP and Harcros companies both took responsibilities and recognized the significant impact on the Atchison community. MGP immediately approached Atchison Hospital to ensure full payment and any followup treatments for all 140 persons physically impacted from the incident. MGP also took steps to remedy the situation by a redesign of the facility and an extensive safety training program for employees. Harcros also implemented extensive safety training for their employees. MGP and Harcros also cooperated fully with federal environmental and safety agencies in addition to making full payment of respective fines imposed as the investigative findings.
McAllister commended the Environmental Protection Agency and Assistant U.S. Attorney Rich Hathaway for their work on the case.