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“Explosion” at Soy Energy plant leaves no one injured; former employees warn of danger

Editorial by Matt Marquardt -

MASON CITY – It appeared that no one was hurt in an apparent explosion at Soy Energy LLC, located at 4172 19th St. SW.

At the scene, firefighters were looking for signs of trouble and employees were gathered outside watching.  Police guarded the main entrance.

A second-floor window showed what appeared to be smoke or water from a sprinkler and firefighters did not appear to be discharging hoses, according to NIT photojournalist Jody Spear.

A Fire Department crew will remain on-site to monitor for an undetermined amount of time, I am told.

Soy Energy LLC manufactures bio-diesel products mainly from corn oil and some soy oil.

NorthIowaToday.com met with a group of former Soy Energy employees several weeks back at their request, who warned about the possibility of a dangerous explosion at the plant.

According to these sources, a chemical called methanol combined with what they said are dangerous practices at the plant could lead to a catastrophic situation.  “Wal-Mart would be gone,” one woman who recently worked at Soy Energy LLC said.

The group also said that rail cars full of biodiesel chemicals at the plant are “combustible.”  They said it would take a lot of heat to ignite these chemicals, but if it happened, the explosion would be “very violent.”

Cell-phone use inside the plant, which they say is prohibited, happens regularly, and could be enough to cause a safety hazard.  They also claim a lack of training and OSHA violations “galore” at the plant.  The plant’s website says, however, that “We are a fully staffed plant with all Environmental & OSHA-mandated programs and training in place.”

They also said the plant’s board of directors is seeking $5-$7 million in additional investment from current investors “to keep the plant going.”

A call to the plant Tuesday produced only a “no comment at this time” to all questions.  The man on the phone said the plant manager was “out on the floor” and couldn’t be reached.

 

 

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Posted on May 15, 2012. Filed under Top Stories.
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45 Responses to “Explosion” at Soy Energy plant leaves no one injured; former employees warn of danger

  1. Sherlock Reply Report comment

    May 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Didn’t these guys get some TIF funding? Can we move this company onto the questionable practices list?

    Looks like another example of the fine job council is doing supporting business with questionable practices in Mason City. This is what our votes, or non-votes, have gotten us with our city council.

  2. Sinking Ship Reply Report comment

    May 17, 2012 at 10:00 am

    This company is a sinking ship!! And they did it from the inside out. I would hate to be left on board when they finally go down. I guess to be a former employee, is a good thing at this point!!

  3. Echo Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    If this company or any other company has an IOSHA investigation and they are doing everything by the book they have nothing to worry about. But most of the time companies and management are cutting corners and putting people’s lives at risk. SO IF THEY GET FINED IT IS BECAUSE THEY DESERVE IT!

  4. Shorty Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    The HR Controller was fired the day before an audit. Then was asked to return to train her replacement. Go figure that one?!
    She was told she was dismissed because the company was headed in a different direction.
    She was subjected to things like being isolated from the plant to the extent that she could not distribute the time cards.
    She was escorted to and from the restroom. She shared her desk with a person who played angry birds and acted as her babysitter.
    There was nothing wrong with her performance nor was she unsafe. She was a team player who also cared very much for her coworkers and the company.

    • Caring Employee Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm

      As an employee have also wondered why this happened… I don’t understand why the person you have mentioned was treated this way all the sudden. The former employee you mentioned seemed to be very polite and helpful to others.

  5. Shorty Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Observer, That is true.Safety does start with you.
    Perhaps the people of Soy Energy were ready to call but hoped management would resolve the issues when raised by them.
    The former employees who were fired could not make the call for the employees who were still there.
    Many of the people who work at Soy Energy feared for retaliation of management if they called OSHA.

    The OSHA number is :515-284-4794.

    • Observer Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      Federal Whistle Blower laws make it clear, no retaliation. At least that legislation has teeth to it.

      • Zena Reply Report comment

        May 17, 2012 at 3:33 am

        There indeed should be no retaliation if OSHA was called. However, based on the company track record in regard to management hiring and firing on whims, the employees take that as little consolation.
        There are ways to make an employee intimidated and miserable or to make excuses to get rid of the burrs in their saddles as Soy sees fit.
        Soy uses and abuses the Iowa at will employment criteria.

  6. Observer Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    If people are so concerned, how come only now you call for OSHA to be alerted?

    As someone else here said, Safety starts with YOU. If you wait for someone else, you could be dead.

  7. Shorty Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Do you know that employees are exposed to Diamataceous Earth regularly at Soy Energy, when they blow down the screens? The dust forms a haze or a cloud of white powder in the air and falls to the floor below.
    Diamataceous Earth is a known Carcinogen. It causes Cancer. It is worn head to toe by floor operators regularly and breathed in with no respirators or proper air filtration.
    It coats the equipment in the lab and all you have for protection is a flimsy disposable 3M mask.
    Those in management who were fired tried to address these concerns in safety committees. Their concerns fell on deaf ears.
    OSHA needs to look into their air quality.How many people are jeopardizing their health/safety working there? People were not properly trained about the dangers of D.E. . An operator had nothing for breathing protection and was informed of its dangers.
    There is an MSDS but people do not have time to read every page.They should have been informed of the risks by management. An informed coworker brought it to one individuals’ attention.

    • Observer Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      Yes, that DE we used in the pool filter for three decades is horrid stuff. Wait, I am still alive, and never wore a respirator. Oh the horrors, oh the humanity.

      And you are willing to wait for someone else to tell you to be safe? Stellar move.

      • Shorty Reply Report comment

        May 16, 2012 at 8:52 pm

        You are lucky, Observer. How fortunate that you are still alive .
        How many smokers brag they are still alive who may succomb to cancer in another 20 years?
        As for Soy, the employees raised the concerns and asked for resolution.
        The only way to remove the potential D.E exposure risk up to now has been to leave Soy Energy.
        Many have been looking for other employment opportunities for months.

  8. Shorty Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    The former lab manager who was fired, was there from the foundation of the plant when it was Freedom Fuels. Many of the former coworkers came back under the new ownership as Soy Energy in the hopes that they would succeed.
    The lab manager was on top of ASTM and BQ9000. She had an impecable work reputation and was extremely knowledgable in the biodiesel laboratory field.
    There were no real grounds for firing her.She was a victim of company politics.
    The new plant manager and the existing General manager told her the company was headed in a different direction.
    They wanted a lab manager who was involved in the production/operations. They did not want a dedicated lab manager.They never gave her a chance to move in the different direction.
    They simply put a replacement in who was a subcontracted employee who was far less experienced and not as qualified.
    The former lab manager was passionate about safety. She was a devoted employee.
    She addressed safety concerns and upheld the integrity of results of the product.
    Her courage to speak up was rewarded with walking papers.

  9. Shorty Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    The people in management who were fired were safe and competent individuals. They were each fired for no good reason. They were told the company was going in a different direction . One manager was told he was unapproachable and not a good leader.
    The truth is that these people cared very deeply about the success of Soy Energy and the safety of their coworkers. They are all from this region and have been part of the community most of their lives.
    The individuals who were fired are of the highest integrity. They are very honest people. They devoted much of their personal time to the company off the clock.
    They were some of the best assets that company had. They were good people caught in the middle of bad company politics.
    They were compelled to bring up multiple safety issues and concerns in the plant. Their concerns fell on deaf ears.
    How dare you slander these individuals “caring in Iowa!”
    I challenge the citizens of Mason City to look into the facts and talk to the employees at Soy Energy . Past and present employees will tell you the truth.
    OSHA needs to investigate multiple issues. Sulfuric Acid leaks, Air filtration quality,lack of respirators being to all employees upon hire.
    Also they need to look into the fact that there is only one exit out of the lab.The individuals working there would be trapped if there was a fire in the hallway.

  10. Needing Facts Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    For those of you that say that you choose not to live in a city where bombs are built, you may want to get to know all of your local businesses not just the bio-diesel plant. Such as AGP the bean processing plant on 19th street. Is anyone aware that they use “Hexane” to extract the oil from the beans? Maybe one should look into the volitility of that. How about the ethanol plant? Anyone know what the potential risk hazzards are there? How about Armour Swift Ecrich meat packing plant and the ammonia they use for cooling. These facilities all require skilled personal to safely handle there work environment and keep you and I safe. These are just a few businesses in Mason City so when you see someone that works at these places don’t shy away from them ask them what takes place where they work and get to know what is around your town!!!

    • Observer Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      Yes, the sky is falling. And you are just now finding out about those chemicals in town?

      Hexane. Used for four decades at a plant in Argo, IL, no incidents at all.

      Caustic Soda. Hauled through Mason City for over a decade, zero incidents.

      Propane. Hauled through Mason City for over 30 years from Canada. Zero incidents.

      Phosphoric Acid. Same thing, hauled through Mason City for decades. No incidents.

      Ethanol. Produced and hauled through Mason City since 2001. Four plants in the area, ONE incident in all that time. Production from 8 plants move through the Mason City area.

      Please stop with the theatrics and hysterics.

      • Shorty Reply Report comment

        May 16, 2012 at 8:58 pm

        Observer,
        Many are not aware of the chemicals that come and go in our area. So there was only ONE incident so far? It was nice of you to bring that to their attention.

        It only took ONE Iceberg to sink the titanic.

      • get real Reply Report comment

        May 16, 2012 at 9:47 pm

        Why shouldn’t people have the right to be safe from known hazards without the fear of retaliation. All this company and any other company needs to do is act responsibly and take these risk serious and try to minimize them. Instead they try to cover them up and hope nothing happens then when it does they lie,cheat and steal to get out of facing the music.

  11. mojo Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    As I stated before I currently work for a large ethanol producing company. Working in these places is not easy. First of all you work 12hour swing shifts. I switch from days to nights every two weeks. These plants never close they produce 24 hours 7days a week 365 days a year. I will work 50 hours one week and 39 the next week. Im not bitching it pays very good and the benefits are good. But…The job can be dangerous. You work around all sorts of nasty chemicals and the alchole is in itself dangerous. My company trains us very very well on how to handle ourselfs safely. They are over the top when it comes to safety. We have gone over a year with out someone getting hurt. We can do that because safety starts with the workers not with management. We have 7 golden rules we follow. If you violate any one of those safety rules you are fired on the spot. Ive seen it happen.

  12. mojo Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    I work in a ethenol plant. It can be a dangerous job. My employer takes safety very seriously. Fumes from alchole are the biggest danger all it takes is one small spark. Don’t know what happened here but my guess is a fume flash fire.

  13. Just the Facts Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    If anyone really wants to know…stat looking at the facts about this company!!!

    Soy Energy has had 17 employees out of a total of 30 quit or been fired in one year!!! That is over 50% of the staff. Anyone who knows anything about business knows that if you have that kind of turnover, you have serious problems!!!

    • Zena Reply Report comment

      May 17, 2012 at 3:41 am

      It may interest some of you to know that the interim General Manager has his own current company interests that come before Soy Energy’s. The current company is named Blackstone.
      This same gentleman is a former Enron employee. What does that say about those who are entrusted with the financial well being of those investors in the company?
      What does that tell you about those put in places of leadership at Soy Energy?
      Look into the financial situation there. It has a less than favorable reputation in this area with banks and businesses.

  14. Realist Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Reading the comments posted about employees and the investors that some people have put on this site makes me realize how many people do not understand how the real world works.

    First lets address the comment that Caring in Iowa made “No one is seriously let go in this economy unless they have issues.” This is just not true. In an uncertain economy businesses are looking for any way to cut costs possible. They will fire higher paid employees and replace them with less skilled employees that they can pay less. Employers also develop an almost godlike mentality. They know that there are many people looking for jobs, and they treat their employees horribly knowing full well that if one quits there are 10 to take their place. This has been going on in this area for many, many years. Iowa is also a right to work state. That means an employer can fire you for no reason what so ever and businesses in this state use that to their advantage.

    It is also true in this company and many others it is WHO you know not WHAT you know that matters. Upper management actually created positions for close friend and children of friends.

    As far as the comments about the investors trying to invest in “industrial development in Iowa”, that is just no the case. These investors were farmers for the most part that saw how much money people made investing in ethanol, and they wanted a piece of the pie for themselves. They also wanted to increase the value of their farm products. If these people were so concerned about where their fuel came from, they would all be using the biodiesel they produce, however the majority of them do not.

    • LVS Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm

      Yes Iowa is a right to work state but in my 50 plus years of working and managing in the state I never heard anyone say to let someone go just because we could. After you have time and money in training an employee it is to any company’s benefit to keep them and get a return on investment. Now, if they are a bad employee you have a whole different approach. This is different than a union enviroment where you spend 97% of your time dealing with the 3% that never should have been hired to begin with. I am not speaking about the soy plant as I know nothing about the circumstances there.

    • Caring Employee Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 6:55 pm

      I’m sorry realist, but I am an employee and have been since it started up last august and our management does not think in the manner you have described in your above comment.

  15. concerned Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 11:42 am

    There are no assumptions here, look at the damn pictures. There was obviously an explosion the fire department is there and stayed there for a while. And i know alot of people who have quit there jobs due to unsafe work its not really that uncommon, i mean i must have the wrong mindset to think people would want to come home to there familys at night. If its safe then fine, but the pictures prove it.

  16. Caring for Iowa Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Reading these comments only makes me feel sad for all the uncaring, and really uninformed people there are that will just throw out ugly comments for everyone to read which aren’t true…

    Former employees are former because they were unsafe and not team players.
    That should speak for itself. No one is seriously let go in this economy unless they have issues!

    This company is trying to do serious business for Iowa and America! Trying to produce fuels not from the mideast…

    For the sake of the many dedicated employees that remain, lets give thanks for their safety and pray for blessings on this company that is working to build industry in Iowa!

    • Anonymous Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm

      Hey “Caring for Iowa” – you talk about these former employees as not safe or team members, but THEY WERE NOT THERE WHEN THIS EXPLOSION HAPPENED WERE THEY? You say none of these were let go unless they issues? What do you call an explosion? Who got let go for this one? How many of these former employees were let go for something of this magnitude? You say you are doing serious business for Iowa – how many former employees do you have? Were they from Mason City area? Serious business for Iowa? I don’t know your position in this company is, but I don’t think you are very honest.

    • rukidding Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      The unsafe employees are the managers that are still there. The former employees might have left because they could see that this company did not take safety serious. We all need to work but a job is not worth our lives especially when the company is putting profit above the public and employees safety. Employees call OSHA no company or manager has the right to put yoour life in danger

  17. concerned Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 9:11 am

    If there is a possibility of an explosion that is that huge that it could take out walmart a half a mile away, why in the **ll hasnt the city looked into this? Maybe someone needs to pull there head out of there *ss, get in there city truck, drive out there and figure out whats actually going on. Last time i checked i didnt sign up to live in a town where bombs were being made.

    • wow Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 10:18 am

      I’ll have what you’re smoking please.

    • mojo Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Your talking about railcars full of the final product. They are not bombs anymore than your cast with a full tank is.

  18. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 8:49 am

    I know previous and current employees. And I don’t understand how a company can get away with the things that this company does. They have gotten rid of all the employees that cared about the company and wanted it up and running safely and have replaced them with people that don’t care, they are just there for the paycheck. I am just suprised that this company is STILL here. When are the investors going to wake up? After someone is killed because of a accident? Time to wake up!!

    • Caring employee Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Plenty of employees are more than caring and not just people doing the bare minimum for a paycheck. If the majority of this “group” of former employees cared so much, in my opinion they would not be former employees.

      • Caring for Iowa Reply Report comment

        May 16, 2012 at 9:46 am

        Reading these comments only makes me feel sad for all the uncaring, and really uninformed people there are that will just throw out ugly comments for everyone to read which aren’t true…

        Former employees are former because they were unsafe and not team players.
        That should speak for itself. No one is seriously let go in this economy unless they have issues!

        This company is trying to do serious business for Iowa and America! Trying to produce fuels not from the mideast…

        For the sake of the many dedicated employees that remain, lets give thanks for their safety and pray for blessings on this company!

      • common sense Reply Report comment

        May 16, 2012 at 5:57 pm

        So no employee has been let go because they refused to do something against the rules that was unsafe. You don’t know squat! I have worked on production lines and was told to do whatever it takes to get production going including violating company safety rules. If you don’t have union protection they will most definetly fire you.

  19. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 8:33 am

    An other business that doesn’t have to comly with ordinance of this town.

    • *Larry* Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      Ordinances, zoning codes…WTF ???? They serve no purpose in this town!
      City Administration/City Council is like the “honey badger”…. just doesn’t give a sh*t!, unless there is beer involved, an election to be brought off, or some sort of payoff
      It’s as if……..Al Capone runs this town !

    • Observer Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Explain to us what ordinances they violated? Do you have inside information that was not included in the article?

  20. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 7:42 am

    Soy Energy Management is coaching employees on what to say when OSHA arrives!

  21. What a joke Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 6:36 am

    I wonder if the investors know what is going on with their investment? And they are looking for more? What a joke!

    • Caring for Iowa Reply Report comment

      May 16, 2012 at 10:51 am

      They are investing in industrial development in Iowa. Trying to devolop fuel from Iowa. Go live in the mideast and get your fuel there… you are uninformed!

      • What a joke Reply Report comment

        May 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm

        You say they are investing in industrial developement in Iowa, but when you invest here in Iowa you invest in the PEOPLE from Iowa and the community – your comments are only about what is produced. We have enough people that invest in Iowa just for their own gain and care little or nothing for the communities or the FAMILIES of their employees. I bet if someone were to look into why these people are former employees, we would find that they were actually hard working and honest people – maybe not all of them – but if you can just wave your hand and fire people just to fire them? Do you rally care about Iowa? Well, how about the families of these former employees?
        Oh yeah – how dare you tell anyone to get, to do anything or to go somewhere else – you probably aren’t from Iowa anyway!!!!!!

      • rukidding Reply Report comment

        May 16, 2012 at 9:54 pm

        Do you really believe that line of crap or is it the company line

  22. Boomer Reply Report comment

    May 16, 2012 at 6:33 am

    The plant manager himself was caught talking and texting on his cell phone in the classified area. He has also been caught sleeping in the control room because he had been out drinking the night before until early in the morning.When the explosion happened he had already left for the day – despite repeated attempts to call and email him – he could not be reached! With leadership like that no wonder this happened!!