BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEVER – Residents southwest of Wever in rural Lee County woke up Tuesday morning to what looks like a visit from Mr. Bubble, but they’re not joking about wanting answers.
Suds that resemble what you would see in a bubble bath were laying lightly in the fields and yards southwest of the Iowa Fertilizer plant. The bubbles could be seen along Hwy. 61 south of the plant almost to first Fort Madison exit, but not beyond that.
Resident Kristen Brookhiser said she noticed the bubbles at about 6:25 a.m. when she started her morning getting her children ready for the day.
She then made a call to the fertilizer plant to report the incident and was told by assistant manager Zach Adamson at the facility that everything was safe and there was no cause for alarm.
“He reassured me it was safe and there was no danger, but I requested that evidence,” Brookhiser said. “He’s sending me the safety data sheets on the particular detergent that was used.
“He made it sound like it was a mistake and they were working on the problem.”
Jesse Harris, a spokesperson for Iowa Fertilizer Company, released a statement Tuesday morning, stating the substance was harmless.
“As part of our normal manufacturing process, we occasionally use a cleaning element that allows us to continue producing high-quality fertilizer products, while also enhancing the safety of our overall operations. The cleaning element does produce foam bubbles and recent high winds unexpectedly blew those outside the perimeter of our facility.
“While we have been and will continue to work to minimize this from happening any further, it is important to underscore that this substance is harmless. We apologize for any concerns this may have caused among our neighbors and encourage anyone who has questions or would like additional information to contact us at 515-422-9296.
Iowa Department of Resources Field 6 Supervisor Kurt Levetsow said initial reports from residents and fertilizer plant leadership lead him to believe the substance is harmless.
“You were the first to contact us, but since that time we’ve had three other reports,” Levetsow said. “It’s not harmful is what we’re hearing from the facility.”
Levetsow said he was informed the suds are coming from a sugar-based surfactant that was used in the cooling towers. That product generally produces the suds that got caught up in some high winds overnight. He said he also requested the Material Safety Sheets from the plant and expected to have them in his hands Tuesday morning to review.
Brookhiser said she has never seen anything like that from the fertilizer plant. She said she could see the wind blowing the stack smoke toward her neighborhood as she was driving back from Burlington that morning.
“(Adamson) said it was a kind of a unique situation that was not supposed to happen and they were doing everything that can to correct it.
Camalla Briggs, also a neighbor in the area said seeing the bubbles in her yard and trees took her back to the original community meeting that was held where residents were given a “survival pack” including duct tape and a flashlight.
Briggs is concerned about the makeup of the bubbles that were strewn about her yard and trees. One dropping was more than a foot tall and wide.
“Yeah, it’s weird. About a quarter to seven we were looking at the window and saw these things that looked like snowballs” Briggs said, and then pointed to another group of suds floating over her yard.
“And look – see?, there’s one floating over the tree see it?
“We don’t know during the night when it happened. It’s odd because if it’s just suds you’d think it would be gone by now. If you put suds in your yard it isn’t going to be there for four hours. Its on the plants. We hear it came out of their pipes,” Briggs said.
Brookhiser said she was concerned about the residual effects of the bubbles being on trees and plants and the watershed effect. She used a stick to pick up some of the suds and put them in a gallon sealed bag.
“We have a bee hive and a garden and things that chemicals can effect. We’re also in the Lost Creek Watershed. It runs through our property on the bottom of the hill and then into the river. You’ve gotta watershed issue. Maybe it’s not toxic when its released into the air, but what happens when it’s condensed into the ground and runs off in the water.”