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Chronic illnesses triggering lawsuits against MGP, site of 2016 Atchison, Kansas industrial accident

Plaintiffs say that they breathed in toxic fumes from a gaseous cloud that formed over the city after a 2016 industrial accident at the industrial plant.

Posted: Mar 2, 2020 3:47 PM
Updated: Mar 2, 2020 7:05 PM

(ATCHISON, Kan.) -- Lawsuits are mounting for an Atchison, Kansas grain plant, where an accidental combination of chemicals triggered a large gaseous cloud that overtook much of the city in October, 2016.

As many as seven or eight families are suing MGP Ingredients for what they say are chronic health issues that have developed after being exposed to the gas.

Atchison resident Sharon Berry is one of those who claim to be a victim. Her home is located just five blocks from the MGP plant. She says that since her exposure, she's suffered a number of problems.

"My left vocal cord is paralyzed. I'm still coughing up all sorts of yuck," Berry said.

At the time of the accident, company officials said that a delivery error caused bleach and sulfuric acid to be mixed together, dispersing the large cloud of chlorine gas over Atchison.

The gaseous cloud that formed enveloped the city for several hours, leaving residents and others to take cover or even evacuate.

Berry and her husband said they felt trapped in their home.

"I literally could not breathe. I didn't know what it was," she said. "We were debating whether to leave, but we didn't think we'd make it to the car."

After the cloud had cleared that afternoon, Berry and more than 100 others sought medical attention. The lawsuit she has has filed claims negligence on the part of MGP.

"It doesn't pass the smell test that these many people would be in the middle of the exposure, at those levels and and somehow not walk away unscathed on a permanent basis," said Andy Smith, an attorney at Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, the firm representing Berry and the other plaintiffs.

Smith says there has been a common thread in many of his clients who he says were victimized by the cloud of gas.

"Permanent, irreversible lung damage, which affects how you breathe, your ability to breathe, it causes you fatigue, perhaps severe headache," he said.

Smith said it shouldn't be a surprise that even more than three years later, people are developing illnesses due to the industrial accident.

"It's very common in toxic exposure cases for people to have a delay from people to figure it out. You need for the people responsible for it to be front and center and tell the affected folks what can happen," Smith said.

In January, MGP pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Air Act and agreed to pay a $1 million fine. However, the judge in the case hasn't signed off on the aggreement yet, saying he wants to first hear victim impact statements, which is scheduled for May.

Should he speak to Berry, he'll hear how her life has changed since the accident. She says she now struggles to even go up the flight of stairs in her home without taking a rest break halfway through.

"Every morning I'm sick and my energy level is down and every day since i've been doing less and less," Berry said.

She said she is angry at how her fatigue and illness have reduced her quality of life.

"Every time there's a fog when you look outside and think...nature or MGP?" she said.

KQ2 News talked with an MGP representative asking for a response related to the lawsuits. However, they said they could not comment due to the pendinig litigation.

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