UPDATE: Nova-Kem Fined for 2013 Chemical Explosion

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March 18, 2016

UPDATE: SEWARD (WIFR) – A local company is being fined $5,000 after a 2013 explosion that evacuated the town of Seward.

The penalties come from an environmental lawsuit filed again Nova-Kem by the Illinois Attorney General and State’s Attorney.
The complaint claims the company put the community of Seward in danger during the blast.

You may recall, emergency crews couldn’t use water to put out the flames because of the chemicals involved.

Nova-Kem has since complied with the IEPA and does not agree with the violations.

June 2, 2014

UPDATE: SEWARD (WIFR) -- One year after an explosion at the Nova-Kem plant in Seward the company's owner says the attorney general's office says the company has complied with all testing following the explosion and fire.

All is quiet in and around the Nova-Kem plant in Seward. A striking difference from a year ago when thick black smoke filled the air and sirens from fire engines blared.

On June 2, 2013 an explosion and fire inside the Nova-Kem plant evacuated the village of about 200, including Tom Eickman from Eickman's Processing Company.

"Everyone went through it, everyone was safe through it, and we kind of keep moving on after that and hopefully won't have anything like that ever again," he said.

Eickman says despite a public outcry in the months following the fire the community has moved on and now Nova-Kem's CEO Reno Novak says the company is ready to do the same.

"The resolution was good. No environmental impact, no health concerns," Novak said.

Novak says he recently received a letter from the Attorney General’s Office stating the company had complied with all its requests for testing in the area. Novak expects a resolution at their next court date. After that the company can focus on rebuilding, but where that happens remains to be determined.

Eickman says while many have come to terms with what happened here a year ago some aren't ready for chemical production to return.

"You don't want to have that issue as a possibility, you know, wake up in the middle of the night and be as fortunate," Eickman said.

"Some people don't want to have a chemical plant in their backyard; some people don't want to have a pig farmer in their backyard. That's their choice. That's what’s great about our country," Novak said.

August 28, 2013

UPDATE: SEWARD (WIFR) – The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) today issued an update to the public regarding an explosion and fire that took place at Nova-Kem Chemicals Company on June 2-3, 2013.
The portions of the facility that were affected by the fire have been demolished and the residual chemicals and chemical containers have been packaged and taken off-site. The site is undergoing an environmental investigation with oversight by the Illinois EPA and the Agency is reviewing the Root Cause Analysis report regarding the possible cause of the incident. Once the investigation is complete, decisions can be made regarding the extent of cleanup actions necessary on the facility or in off-site areas.

Environmental sampling has been conducted by the Illinois EPA and a consultant for Nova-Kem on a number of residential properties to evaluate whether trace chemicals were deposited by the smoke plume during the fire. The Illinois EPA will hold a public availability session to discuss these findings and other concerns area residents may have on Wednesday, September 11th at 6:30 p.m. at the Seward School Center located at 2970 Tracey Street in Seward.

Illinois EPA also announced that Nova-Kem will be allowed to conduct limited manufacturing operations at its facility in Seward, under conditions of certain safety requirements. Nova-Kem is currently under a court order to cease and desist all operations at the facility unless the Illinois EPA and Illinois OAG agree to allow them.

These limited operations, which begin August 29th, will involve a process and location that is different and separate from the production process that was involved in the June 2-3 incident. The decision was made after careful evaluation and consultation with experts at the Illinois EPA regarding the technical aspects and risks involved in the chemical process. Precautions that are being required by the two agencies include:

Operations may resume only after the local fire department has inspected the premises and evaluated safety measures.
An Emergency Notification system must be operated at the Specialty Products Building
A fire alarm with remote notification must be installed within two weeks.
Chemicals not used in the current process will be removed from or segregated in a separate room in the Specialty Products Building
Technical operators must be present during the entire production process
Illinois EPA will inspect and monitor the process.

Production of yttrium lanthanum nitrate solution will occur between August 29, 2013 and the end of November, 2013 at the Specialty Products Building, which was not involved in the June 2-3 fire and will be making use of materials already at the facility.

The process is unrelated to the production of hexachlorodisilane – the primary product made at the main production building that burned.

For more information and continued updates on the situation, visit http://www.epa.state.il.us/community-relations/fact-sheets/nova-kem/index.html.

SEWARD (WIFR) -- It's been nearly three months since a Seward chemical plant exploded, causing an extreme fire and the evacuation of hundreds of neighbors. On Tuesday, those neighbors got some of their questions answered about what happened that day and what’s in store for the future of the site.

Nearly 100 people attended the town hall meeting in Seward hosted by Nova-Kem. The company's president, Reno Novak, says he's still waiting on results from an outside report to show exactly what caused June’s blast, however, he says it was likely a valve malfunction. Workers have been removing chemicals from the site for months, dirt has been tested and hauled away, and a few empty tanks remain on the demolished site. Novak says he's still not sure whether the company will rebuild in Seward, something neighbors weren’t happy about.

"I was very disappointed; I wanted some commitment from Reno Novak that he was not going to continue operations in Seward Township, and I didn't get that at all,” says Sandi Milburn, who lives near the plant.

“I would like to make sure we go over the safety plan, there business continuity plan to make sure that it is really going to, that he sees the reaction of the community and just take those extra steps to make it happen so we can feel safe," says neighbor Tari Woods.

The Illinois EPA is holding a town hall style meeting in Seward on September 11th. At that meeting, residents are expected to find out more about the chemical contamination at the site and if there will be any long term effects from the explosion.

July 8, 2013

UPDATE: SEWARD (WIFR) – More than a month after a chemical plant explosion that evacuated the village of Seward, crews finally begin the clean-up process.

Today was the first day of clean-up at Nova-Kem since the plant exploded on June 2nd.

About 15 workers are on site today, cleaning up around the outside of the three building. Three local contractors and another from Wisconsin are helping tear down external pieces. Tomorrow, crews will go inside the facility to remove any remaining chemical containers but contractors say they don’t expect any major hazards.

“Every container we’ve found in the walkway or the ones in the pull barn, have all been burned out and empty, so we’re anticipating two or three things we may have to deal with, but most of the time, it’s going to be empty containers and something that just needs to be cleaned up and shipped off properly,” said contractor Maury Daubs.

Other than the three firefighters who went inside the plant to make sure the fire was completely out, no one else has been inside the facility since the explosion. The cause is still unknown and the clean-up process is expected to take seven to ten days.

SEWARD (WIFR) -- Employees at Nova-Kem hope to start cleaning up the explosion site next week. A contractor for the company says workers are waiting on permission to get into the building which is expected to be demolished once the waste is cleared out.

Workers say they will likely remove sections of the roof and clean-up should take a couple of weeks.

The company is not sure whether it will rebuild. Right now, leftover inventory is being sent to Nova-Kem’s facility in Wisconsin.

SEWARD (WIFR) -- It's been a week and a half since an explosion and fire at the Nova-Kem plant in Seward. People who live around the area still have a lot of questions and Tuesday night they brought those questions to the township board.

Sandi Milburn lives just hundreds of feet from the now burned up Nova-Kem plant. She was home a week and a half ago when it caught on fire.

"I was counting the explosions for a while and I finally quit at 35," she said.

What Milburn says is even scarier than the explosions is not knowing what happens next.

"What happens to you today may not show up five or six years from now," Milburn said.

And Milburn isn't alone. About 30 people who live near the plant packed the township board meeting for answers.

"We're working with the EPA, they have contacted me, they are having a new meeting coming up in about two weeks and they'll be testing more," Gareot Stahl, Seward Township Supervisor, said.

One of the main concerns -- if Nova-Kem will rebuild, and how residents can stop it. If Nova-Kem doesn't meet zoning ordinances the company will have to go thought the zoning board of appeals before rebuilding, and that's where residents come in.

"The residents can come and testify pro or against whether they feel the standards are being met and health and safety is one of the standards that have to be met," Winnebago County Board District 1 Representative Lynne Strathman, said.

Milburn says it's going to take everyone to stand up to Nova-Kem and keep it out of Seward.

"I am adamant, not in my township and if people in the community don't pull behind the township board and support this effort, there are too many people that are removed from this situation on the zoning board that don't have a clue what we've been through and we've been through it twice now," Milburn said.

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