Big Ox Energy

Two more South Sioux City homeowners have sued Big Ox Energy and the city of South Sioux City for damages caused by toxic odors released by the plant. Three homeowners had previously filed lawsuits.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | South Sioux City renewable energy plant Big Ox Energy has resolved each of the three citations levied against it earlier this year by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

As of Wednesday, the company had reached informal agreements with OSHA regarding two of its citations and was awaiting approval of a formal settlement for a third. 

A formal settlement approved by an administrative law judge is required for the third citation since the company had contested it, a move made to give it more time to reach a settlement with OSHA. 

Big Ox Energy will pay nearly $50,000 in fines for the first two settled citations and a yet undisclosed amount for the third. It has also agreed to boost safety precautions beyond OSHA standards in a variety of its practices. 

"We are committed to continuing to bring new and better safety approaches to the operation," company spokesman Kevin Bradley said Wednesday. 

Earlier this spring, Big Ox Energy received the three citations -- which detailed 15 violations, all of them designated as "serious" -- and over $100,000 in fines following three separate investigations launched last fall. Those investigations followed multiple incidents of worker hospitalization following exposure to either gases or chemicals. 

The citations detailed a lack of protection, education and safety practices for employees, which at times left employees vulnerable to hazardous gases inside the facility.

Big Ox Energy contested the initial citation, issued May 12, in order to give it more time to work out a settlement. The other two citations were issued in mid-April.

The original fine for the contested citation exceeded $50,000, and it has not yet been released what, if any, modification will be made to that amount. 

The settlements of the other two citations reduced the number of "serious" violations and reduced the combined fine amount for the two citations by $819.

Big Ox Energy has additionally agreed to several new safety measures, which include continuous monitoring of gas exposure using alarms, additional training for contractors whose work requires entry into a work area, use of a third-party safety consultant, an emergency response plan and a working relationship with the South Sioux City Fire Department. 

Big Ox Energy's more than $30 million plant uses an anaerobic digestion process to extract organic nutrients from animal, grain and other waste to create methane. The clean-burning fuel is then sold into the natural gas pipeline. The plant went online Sept. 2.

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