Archive for Saturday, July 17, 2010

MagnaGro still operating, despite code violations

Company was site of deadly accident in April

An inspection of the MagnaGro facility revealed numerous fire code violations. The business was the site of a double-fatality accident back in April.

July 17, 2010


Significant fire code violations have been found at the site of a deadly April industrial accident, and questions are mounting about why city regulators have not shut down the plant.

Lawrence City Hall officials confirmed that the production facility of MagnaGro International is in violation of nearly a dozen fire codes, including storing about eight times the amount of allowed flammable liquids, operating without adequate ventilation and storing hazardous materials with no fire sprinklers.

“My level of concern is definitely there,” said Rich Barr, the city’s fire marshal.

But it is still uncertain what actions the city will take. After being questioned by the Journal-World in June, city leaders confirmed that the fertilizer production facility, 600 E. 22nd St., has been out of compliance since 2007 with a code that requires city water and sewer service. City officials allowed the company to continue operating with the hope that it would take steps to come into compliance.

That did not happen. In April, two MagnaGro employees — Brandon Price and Roy Hillebert — were killed when they were overcome by a material being mixed at the site. The lack of city water and sewer service hasn’t been cited as a factor in the accident, but the fatalities caused questions about why the business was allowed to operate out of compliance for so long.

A deadline

Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said MagnaGro officials now have been given until July 21 to fix the water and sewer issues, or else the city will declare the structure unfit for human occupancy.

But that deadline is not an absolute one. Stoddard said the business could be allowed to continue occupying the building past July 21 if there are signs that the company has begun to work toward compliance.

City Manager David Corliss said the multi-year issue may cause the city to re-evaluate how long it gives businesses to come into compliance with codes.

“I am concerned that in some cases we seem to be giving property owners a lot of time to come into compliance,” Corliss said. “That has been our practice, but I’m not sure it is getting the best results for the community.”

The city’s fire code also would allow for operations to be halted at the facility, but Barr said he will have to receive further advice from the city’s legal department on how to proceed if compliance doesn’t happen soon.

“At some point you have to be the bad guy and pull the trigger,” Barr said. “We’re moving ahead with it. I hope they comply, but it is a fairly extensive laundry list that is going to cost them some money.”


The violations include some items such as not having fire exits properly marked or lighted. But some issues are of larger concern.

A June inspection found that 239 gallons of flammable liquids were in a storage area when the code allowed for only 30 gallons.

Storage of other types of chemicals also was out of compliance. There were 3,705 pounds of oxidizers compared with a maximum allowed level of 250 pounds; 16,150 gallons of corrosives compared with a 500 gallon maximum; and 120 gallons of combustible liquids compared with 55 gallons.

The building also was found have inadequate ventilation. Barr said he did not believe the ventilation issue was a factor in the death of the two workers. The two employees were inside a mixing tank, and Barr said the ventilation system likely would not have changed the environment inside the tank. But he said the ventilation system is important for overall worker safety.

The facility also has no fire sprinkler system. Barr said he is uncertain why that code violation was not discovered earlier. He said the city’s permit system does have a flaw in that new companies can move into facilities without triggering a review process if they are similar in uses.

Barr said the property also hasn’t been regularly inspected by the fire department. The department tries to inspect industrial sites on a yearly basis, but Barr said the manager of the property had denied him access on several occasions.

Barr said in 2008 he had started the process to receive a warrant to enter the property, but stopped it after the owner allowed another fire inspector to enter the facility for a more limited inspection. Barr was uncertain the last time a full inspection had been conducted prior to June.

City prepared for action

Ray Sawyer, manager for MagnaGro, declined to comment for this article.

The company has a checkered past. City officials disconnected water and sewer service from the building in 2007 as federal agents descended upon the facility as part of an investigation into MagnaGro dumping improper waste into the sewer system. In 2009, the company was convicted of that activity and fined $240,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition to the EPA violations, the facility has been the site of four chemical spills in the past six years.

Corliss said he understands concerns that the city has given this business too much time, and that the city isn’t equally enforcing codes across the city.

“I think those are fair comments,” Corliss said. “We need to respond. We need to look at our practices.”

Corliss said the city will be prepared to take action following the July 21 deadline.

“We’ll know more next week,” Corliss said. “We’ll be able to see whether they are moving toward compliance or whether this is just more talk.”


Richard Heckler 6 years, 9 months ago

Lack of follow up is the problem.

The city had no idea how the company was operating before the death in spite of previous violations.

Does the city simply notify violators then never follow up?

If so isn't this a dangerous precedent to operate under?

Is the city overly concerned about being "unfriendly" to business in Lawrence rather than demanding strict code compliance in the name of safety for the community?

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 9 months ago

How much more time do they need? How many more "accidents" have to happen before they are shut down?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 9 months ago

The same approach has been applied to the 12th and Haskell salvage yard.

The same approach is applied to site plans such as the USD 497 flooding and light fiasco.

A property owner in our neighborhood altered a site plan then allowed a toxic chemical operation to move in. The building was NOT designed for a toxic chemical operation. The new building design obviously did not follow site plans approved by the city yet passed inspection. if it were not for the concerned neighborhood this kind of activity would have been allowed to proceed.

City Hall and City Commissioners are quite relaxed regarding enforcement.

Were all those bars in the site plans for the Oread Hotel? There are questions about that.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 9 months ago

The 6th and Wakarusa New Urbanism project aka Baur Farms project is no longer a New Urbanism project.

The truth of the matter is it truly never met the concept of New Urbanism but was used as a tool to get city commission approval in spite of the fact the city was over loaded with retail back then. As we see the market was so over loaded Baur Farms could not attract tenants.

The question is when did the New Urbanism site plan wind up the trash can?

BruceWayne 6 years, 9 months ago

Corliss is a puppet. City Hall is way to busy purchasing land to pull his puppet strings and MAKE him do his job. I am shocked that the fire marshall wont act.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 9 months ago

MagnaGro still operating, despite code violations... hmmmmmmmmm

irvan moore 6 years, 9 months ago

it is interesting that a company can be in violation of codes, refuse entrance to fire inspectors, have an accident that costs two lives and show no regard for the laws of our city and we are going to let them keep operating. If they make some effort to show they are trying to come in compliance we will give them an extension? what about the health and welfare of the citizens in the surrounding area? the city commission and city manager have a responsibility to the rest of us to enforce the law and protect the people of Lawrence from unsafe businesses. and Rich, closing it down would make you the good guys, not the bad guys.

BlackVelvet 6 years, 9 months ago

quick, someone plant some K-12 on their property!!!!

kernal 6 years, 9 months ago

This is absolutely ridiculous!! What are we, a bunch of nambie pambies? Close it down now! They've had years to bring it up to compliance, not two weeks. Good grief.

over_par 6 years, 9 months ago

its more interesting when you learn from the other article the city was trying to purchase their land. Not a stretch to believe the city didn't enforce to get a better deal. Either way the families of the two that died have a great suit. Good job Corliss. Way to cost the city millions to try and save a buck.

Ken Lassman 6 years, 9 months ago

I think the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce needs to start a new campaign, with this company as its centerpiece:

"Who said that Lawrence is unfriendly to business??"

blindrabbit 6 years, 9 months ago

The manufacture of MagnaGro products require water as part of the production process; where are they getting it since they have no "hook-up". Either a well, trucking it in or bottled water. Also, what about sanitary issues, porta-pots, OSHA issues, etc., etc.

Agree, City, OSHA, EPA, KDHE are letting this slide for some reason.

Joseph Jarvis 6 years, 9 months ago

@Chad & LJW copyeditors

"MagnaGro International is in violation of nearly a dozen fire codes"

There's usually one code. A code contains multiple laws/rules.

See e.g.

Randall Uhrich 6 years, 9 months ago

It doesn't matter if it's MagnaGro or BP, if oversight and regulations are not enforced, deaths and industrial casualities are going to follow. The company is usually blamed, doing anything to make a profit, but in truth, culpability lies with the regulators and enforcers. Why establish standards if they are going to be ignored? Two deaths here, eleven more in the Gulf BP accident. Are workers' lives that expendable?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

"Are workers' lives that expendable?"

In a libertarian utopia, yes they are, as long as the families of the dead are modestly compensated.

Steve Miller 6 years, 9 months ago

to much big money floating around here, thats why it has been a clouded issue.. this will continue as long as the money flows.. figure it tout.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 6 years, 9 months ago

"“My level of concern is definitely there,” said Rich Barr, the city’s fire marshal."

NO, your level of concern is NOT there. If it really, really was, they would be closed.

Frankly, I'm surprised Homeland Security isn't involved yet.

nut_case 6 years, 9 months ago

Thank god they are not selling bags with a few grams of incense. The place would be raided and closed down in a heartbeat. But multiple fire code violations, workers in danger and the possibility to create a huge toxic mess in the ground, water, and air if it ever were to go up....well, the officials will have to 'think' about that one.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 6 years, 9 months ago

One reason: there are different "officials" involved. The notorious raids you refer to were conducted by the Feds, not Lawrence City employees.

George_Braziller 6 years, 9 months ago

I don't know if there have been any lawsuits filed against MagnaGro by the families of the two who were killed, but it seems to me the City would be included in it as well.

I'd say both are equally liable. Violations going back three years that were known to both MagnaGro and the City. MagnaGro for not rectifying the problem, and the City for knowing about the problem but looking the other way.

If the violations go back to 2007 there were at least two annual inspections performed by the fire department. I used to be a facility manager and we were cited one time for having a broken cover plate on an electrical outlet. Another time we were cited because there was a calculator temporarily plugged into an extension cord.

It took mere minutes to fix the problem, but 30 days later the fire inspectors came back to make sure it was done.

They'll shut you down for using an extension cord but storing hazardous materials and flammable liquids is OK?

dontpanic 6 years, 9 months ago

I'm shocked that there was no mention of the large quantities of Dihydrogen Monoxide stored on site.

One of the employees was bragging to reporters about how they had over 9000 gallons of this dangerous substance.

After hearing them talking about it, I looked it up and found this site about DHMO

Lawrence needs to do something about this before it spills and contaminates our water supply!!!

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