Cane molasses not dangerous except in tragic, specific confluence of circumstances

An ambulance pulling into Lawrence Memorial Hospital from the site of an industrial accident Thursday had to be quarantined for several hours, as officials from Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical analyzed the substance that apparently had caused all the trouble.

Their identification: cane molasses.

“Once it’s exposed to the air and it’s properly ventilated, it can be scrubbed down and washed away with soap and water,” said Jeff Novorr, LMH vice president. “Once we realized what it was, that’s what we did.”

While the molasses might be unusual in that it was being used to enhance fertilizer products at MagnaGro International — “I don’t think it’s the same type of molasses that you would go to Hy-Vee and buy and put on your pancakes,” Novorr said — the normally harmless product can be problematic under certain conditions.

When kept in a confined and enclosed space, Novorr said, gases given off by the material can gather and reach unhealthy concentrations.

“One of which is carbon monoxide, which, ultimately, can be fatal,” Novorr said. “When it’s used and stored in ventilated areas, you wouldn’t have the accumulation of gas.”

Novorr emphasized that he was unfamiliar with specific site conditions at MagnaGro, 600 E. 22nd St., and that he was not involved in or familiar with any investigation to determine exactly what happened Thursday at the site, where two MagnaGro employees died.