Ron Baade, who runs a vintage car and truck restoration store near Algona, knows the smells of rural Iowa well: Thousands of pigs, cows and chickens produce a lot of manure.
But these smells are pale compared to the fumes emanating since the end of May from a large concrete lagoon south of the city.
It stinks of decaying dead animals, said Baade, whose store is about a mile from the lagoon.
“It’s beyond what you feel in the country,” he said.
Friends, family and neighbors tell him that the smell has sometimes made them vomit. “It takes your breath away,” he said.
In early September, Randy Dean Meyer, a man from Whittemore, was agitating the contents of the lagoon with an auger mounted on a tractor and was overwhelmed by the fumes. Two days later, Meyer, 33, died in a Mason City hospital.
Another man at the site with Meyer battled the fumes but managed to escape, according to a letter the Iowa Department of Natural Resources sent to the owners of the facility.
Since then, the state has ordered the owners and an associated company in Iowa not to move the material from the lagoon, which officials describe as containing at least 300,000 gallons of peptones, a byproduct of the processing. pork, as well as soy milk and possibly other unidentified ones. substances.
State officials said the material was intended for use as a soil conditioner, fertilizing cultivated fields.
Baade and others said they were told the material breaks down pig intestines. The material is linked to a company that makes heparin, a life-saving blood thinner derived from the intestines.
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In its letter to the owners of the site, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said the material in the tank at the otherwise decommissioned pig facility on US 169 is potentially hazardous. The agency plans to take samples and use the results to determine how to dispose of the material.
Baade, who heads the local chapter of the Izaak Walton League, a national conservation group, said he had asked a state official to hold a meeting to address neighbors’ concerns about the contents of the reservoir and the how it will be managed. He is concerned that the material could still be applied to nearby fields.
The facility is next to a stream that flows into the east branch of the Des Moines River. None of the material is believed to have reached the tributary, Baade said. But “we are the ones who are going to have to put up with” both the smell when pumping the reservoir and the possible threat to water quality, he said.
MNR found “no violations” before worker died from smoke
Baade and others have said that long before Meyer’s death, they complained to the DNR about the overwhelming odor of the facility. Baade said he filed his first complaint in mid-July.
The Iowa DNR said a field agent had visited the site three times between that date and early September and inspected it for compliance with environmental regulations.
“No violations have been identified. The DNR does not regulate odors,” a spokeswoman said in an email.
The third time the DNR officer visited, on September 4, first responders were at the scene, wearing breathing apparatus as they cared for Meyer, a father of four.
The next day, Charrisa Mueller, head of emergency management for Kossuth County, released a statement saying her office had received numerous complaints about the odor. Despite the smell, Mueller said there was no threat to the health of area residents or passers-by.
Baade said one of his cousins who was visiting over the Labor Day weekend, staying in his campervan inside the air-conditioned store in Baade, called at 5:30 a.m. that day. to say he couldn’t stand the smell anymore and had to leave. Baade said that when he went to his store, the smell was overwhelming.
It took a few days to rid the building of the smell, he said.
Kossuth County Sheriff Roger Fisher said in his report on Meyer’s death that the material was “skimming” off the top of the tank for some reason. The state has asked the United States Environmental Protection Agency to take air samples.
Results are not yet available, said David Bryan, EPA spokesperson for Region 7 on Thursday.
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Baade expressed frustration with the state’s slow response to complaints as the problem escalated.
“It’s aggravating,” Baade said. “I had the wheels moving in July. But someone had to die before anything could be done.”
Agricultural product or environmental hazard? Monitoring is unclear
Monitoring of the reservoir and its contents is the responsibility of two state agencies.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture issued a “stop sale” order on September 16, saying the material was no longer registered as a soil amendment because soy milk and other substances would have been added. The order said anyone removing the material could face criminal charges.
The order named Kevin and Josh Roethler of Algona and Mike Marso, owner of M&M Pumping in West Bend, as recipients. He indicates that Mobren Transport of Sioux City is the manufacturer of the material, called Mobren Liquidgrow.
On September 23, the DNR sent a letter to the Roethlers and Marso, saying state law allows the agency to order the withdrawal and proper disposal of hazardous substances. Agency officials met with the men the week of September 26, a DNR spokeswoman said.
Additionally, MNR said in the letter that the concrete tank appeared to be an “unauthorized sewage disposal system.”
The agency told the Des Moines Register that the pork by-products came from Hepar Bioscience, a South Dakota company that produces animal fats and fats and pharmaceutical by-products. He said the soybean wash water came from American Natural Processors, an oilseed processor in South Dakota that has Iowa plants in Galva and Cherokee.
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According to documents from the Iowa Secretary of State, Scientific Protein Laboratories owns Mobren Transport, which appoints the officers of Scientific Protein Laboratories as officers of Mobren.
The Waunakee Company, Wisconsin, manufactures heparin, the anticoagulant derived from the intestines of pigs, as well as pancreatin. Made from pig pancreas, it helps people with cystic fibrosis metabolize fat and protein.
Scientific Protein Laboratories and American Natural Processors did not respond to a request for comment. Hepar Bioscience declined to comment on Thursday. The Roethlers and Marso could not be reached.
Chinese pharmaceutical company Shenzhen Hepalink, one of the world’s largest heparin manufacturers, bought Scientific Protein Laboratories in 2013 for $ 337.5 million.
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The problem near Algona is not the first for Mobren Transport. State records show the company, also known as Mobren Biologicals, was fined and entered into a consent decree in 2017 with the DNR after a pond owner reported the death of a fish, claiming the pond was black, oily, and smelly.
MX2 Trucking had applied material to land near the pond in rural Woodbury County, and a state environmental specialist who confirmed the report said the company was applying the material in a field for that she was there. The MNR agent found the same material in a nearby stream.
Mobren and MX2 agreed to pay a fine of $ 6,000, including $ 3,000 for allowing a pollutant to enter an Iowa waterway, resulting in the death of fish. The companies agreed to take action to prevent future breaches.
Baade said he was grappling with what he sees as an inconsistency in state regulation. Cattle ranchers in Iowa must dispose of a dead animal – by composting it, burying it, sending the carcass to a rendering company or other action – within 24 hours or face a fine , did he declare.
“You have to do it with a dead animal, but you can throw thousands of gallons of intestines into an open pit,” he said. “Go on.”
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, environment and energy for the Registry. Contact her at [email protected] or 515-284-8457.