Archive for Friday, April 2, 2010

OSHA enters investigation into Thursday’s fatal industrial accident at MagnaGro

Authorities release names of those killed in Thursday’s MagnaGro industrial accident

Division Chief Rich Barr investigates the scene at MagnaGro International, 600 E. 22nd St., on Friday, April 2, 2010, a day after two workers died there in an industrial accident.

Division Chief Rich Barr investigates the scene at MagnaGro International, 600 E. 22nd St., on Friday, April 2, 2010, a day after two workers died there in an industrial accident.

April 2, 2010, 11:21 a.m. Updated April 2, 2010, 5:45 p.m.


A federal agency has entered the investigation into Thursday afternoon’s double-fatality industrial accident at MagnaGro International, 600 E. 22nd St.

A spokesman for Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed the agency has an investigator in Lawrence looking into the incident that killed two workers, Roy Hillebert, 51, Eudora, and Brandon Price, 25, Lawrence.

OSHA has about six months to complete its investigation of such a case, said Michael Moon of OSHA’s Wichita office. He said MagnaGro has no previous violations on file with OSHA.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not yet entered the investigation, an agency spokesman said Friday that it definitely would launch its own probe.

Fatal accident at MagnaGro International

MagnaGro International will continue operations following an industrial accident that left two employees dead. The investigation into the incident is ongoing.

“We are interested in coordinating with OSHA,” said Mike Burnett, special agent in charge of criminal investigations for the EPA’s region 7.

MagnaGro, which formulates chemical fertilizers for nationwide resale, has a history with the EPA. In September 2007, the agency alleged that general manager and owner Raymond Sawyer and the company were discharging waste from the fertilizer operation into the city’s sewer system, using a hose inserted into a toilet. Investigators determined the company had been doing that for 10 years. In February 2009, Sawyer pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally discharging the waste and later was sentenced to five years of probation for the misdemeanor offense. He and the company also were required to pay a $240,000 fine.

In addition, Lawrence fire and medical crews responded to an accidental spill at MagnaGro. According to the fire and medical department, MagnaGro employees were transferring a chemical — a plant growth activator called phypogroxtra — from one tank to another when a leaky valve lead to the spill. The chemical was washed into the street, where a passerby who saw it reported it to authorities.

And in October 2009, crews responded to another spill. At that time, fire and medical officials said 200 to 250 gallons of fertilizer-like material leaked from a tanker truck into a nearby ditch.

On Friday, the EPA’s Burnett stressed that the agency isn't aware of any violations involved in the latest incident.

“We are interested,” he said. “It is shocking to me that this facility has had more issues. It is sad that two folks have died as a result of whatever happened. So we are definitely going to coordinate with the other agency and find out what happened.”

Burnett said when the EPA investigated MagnaGro several years ago, officials went to the plant with a search warrant.

“When we went in there you could tell the place was very pretty much run down,” he said. ‘‘I don’t know what has happened since our case. We haven’t had any dealings with them. This is the first I have heard about the plant since our investigation.”

The accident also remains under separate investigation by Lawrence police and fire and medical officials, according to Mark Bradford, fire and medical chief. The cause of the men’s death is pending autopsy results.

Emergency crews responded Thursday afternoon to MagnaGro, near 22nd and Delaware streets, where they were told two people had fallen into a tank containing an unknown substance, according to Mark Bradford.

Bradford said the substance wouldn’t normally be toxic, but because of the close quarters inside the tank, it was harmful. One employee was pronounced dead at the scene and a second one died at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Another worker was treated at LMH and released on Thursday.

Jeff Novorr, vice president at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said Thursday that chemical residue left by an ambulance that had been at MagnaGro contained about 80 percent cane molasses. Novorr said cane molasses — when in a poorly ventilated area — converts to carbon monoxide.

After responding to the emergency call Thursday afternoon, crews from Lawrence Douglas County Fire and Medical entered the building in HazMat suits and were washed off by other firefighters when they exited the building. One firefighter was treated and released from LMH with respiratory injuries. And a third person inside MagnaGro was treated and released Thursday from Lawrence Memorial Hospital. They were not identified.

Since 2004, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has responded to four chemical spills at the plant, KDHE spokesman Kristi Pankratz said. The first spill was in January 2004 for the chemical humaid. In January 2008 and again in March 2009, the chemical phypogroxtra was spilled. The last spill was reported in October 2009 involving the chemical restorextra.

The KDHE is not investigating Thursday's accident, Pankratz said.


frank mcguinness 7 years, 8 months ago

Very sad, Magna Grow should be shut down as it has wayy more violations than any business should ever have been allowed to have.

lounger 7 years, 8 months ago

This goes to show even natural things are toxic. Poor fellas.

whiteorchid 7 years, 8 months ago

My sympathy to the families of these men. If the company was negligent in any way, I hope increased safety regulations are enforced so this doesn't happen again.

loveispain722 7 years, 8 months ago

prayers for the familys of the lost men. Roy we will miss you much! You were a wonderful guy, a wonderful grandpa and dad! It just wont be the same! The Steffens

Deja Coffin 7 years, 8 months ago

My thoughts and prayers go out to Brandon and Roy's families. I know you will be missed by so many people that loved you!

unite2revolt 7 years, 8 months ago

I was shocked to hear about Brandon. I take some small comfort in knowing he is at peace. Chris, I am sorry for your loss and wish you the best. -Andy

dubstep 7 years, 8 months ago

Bradford said the substance wouldn’t normally be toxic, but because of the close quarters inside the tank, it was harmful.

Sounds like very gross negligence to me. Our federal (and even state) regulators should have the ability to shut down businesses that habitually violate the law (10 years of flushing waste down a toilet with a hose??? Come on!). This sounds like a tragedy that could have been avoided in so many ways.

Hope the dirtbag gm/owner gets some jail time, though I doubt that will happen.

BruceWayne 7 years, 8 months ago

i admire our first responders. question...every article mentions them entering in Hazmat suits yet the pics show them being washed off in the standard bunker gear. did they not realize at first the potential danger?

Kontum1972 7 years, 8 months ago

and this person who ran this company was still allowed to do business even after the previous violations. So where what happened to any follow up investigations by th city of Lawrence isnt this part of what a city manager's job?


this means other city officials are just a responsible for killing these people? do the math...!

Gary Rogers 7 years, 8 months ago

R.I.P. Roy. You were a great friend and I will miss you. May your death not be in vain. It is time that Ray Sawyer is held accountable for his actions and lack of action, as well as his total disregard of humanity. I hope Brad and the rest of you family hit Ray in the pocketbook. The bottomline was all that matters to Ray and that bottomline is money. May your family get it all and force him out of bisness Ray Sawyer and Magnagro International: What goes around, comes around. Face up to your responsibilties and then leave please. You are no longer needed or wanted in Lawrence.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 7 years, 8 months ago

One day later and we are still reading the phrase "unknown substance". It leaves the impression that no-one was in charge and actually knew what was going on.

damnitimpissed 7 years, 8 months ago

I never doubted this but the fact that the firefighter got directly into contact with the "unknown substance" to retrieve the two men makes me feel a good deal of admiration. It is truly sad it was too late.

OSHA; please hold these business owners responsible to the fullest extent of the law. They do not deserve ANY leniency.

gphawk89 7 years, 8 months ago

Not sure about the reference to carbon MONoxide. Sure, carbon DIoxide will be produced during fermentation, and molasses does just that. MONoxide wouldn't be produced unless you basically burned the molasses. But CO2 is just as dangerous as CO if it displaces your oxygen supply in an enclosed space.

Fatalaties + OSHA + EPA + multiple prior violations = goodbye, ManaGro.

Boston_Corbett 7 years, 8 months ago

Yup, carbon monoxide is produced in a tank of molasses. Colorless, odorless. Let's let OSHA do their work before everyone reaches conclusions.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 8 months ago

Kontum 1972, I guess you must live in a vacuum. Our city "officials" are 5 clueless dudes who can buy the most yard signs to get the most votes. I think there is no other requirement. The Lawrence city commision dances to the tune of the city manager. Mr. core-less.

They do not respond to any sort of information of serious problems either in the city government or city affairs and are totally oblivious to the true nature of good government.

By the way, if the EPA (a Federal agency) has cited this company in the past, just how is it that OSHA (another Federal agency) has not been previously involved???? Oh Yes, they take lessons from the Lawrence City Commision on being clueless, eh??

This terrible event should have never happened, this company should have been shut down long ago, but I guess building roundabouts and fishing for more "sister cities" is heavy on the minds (??) of city commissioners.

GardenMomma 7 years, 8 months ago

January 2004 - chemical spill - STRIKE 1 January 2008 - chemical spill - STRIKE 2 March 2009 - chemical spill #2 - STRIKE 3 October 2009 - chemical spill - STRIKE 4 March 2010 - a terrible tragedy. Why did it have to go this far? What happened? Somewhere someone didn't follow up. It sounds like this company has had EPA violations (and I'm guessing OSHA violations too). Why wasn't there better scrutiny?

I'm so sorry for the families and friends of the people who died and I wish them peace in this time of sorrow.

puddleglum 7 years, 8 months ago

gardenmomma has it right on.

10 years dumping toxic chemicals down a toilet, lies about it-then pleads guilty once he figures he has no way out?


still waiting for pilgrim2 to come on here and defend the business owner and place blame on the employees....

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 8 months ago

I've met Sawyer a couple of times, and fortunately never had any business dealings with him. I know people who have dealt with him have found him unethical and dishonest. I hope the families can take him to the cleaners over this.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.