Weekend fire at Jackson biodiesel plant again raises concerns – Clarion Ledger

A massive fire at a biodiesel plant in Jackson on Saturday is again raising questions about the plant’s operations near a residential neighborhood in west Jackson. 

No injuries were reported in the Saturday night fire at Jaxon Energy, LLC, said Cleotha Sanders, division fire chief for the Jackson Fire Department. He said Jaxon Energy staff reported the fire was the result of plant equipment malfunction.

The plant, located in an industrial park in west Jackson, was open Monday.

Plant officials weren’t immediately available for comment. 

Jaxon Energy, LLC, a company that converts soybeans and corn oil into renewable fuel, is seen in the 400 block of Industrial Drive in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. A federal lawsuit has been filed against the company for its alleged pollution of nearby waterways.

The blaze marks the the second fire at the plant in under seven months. It also comes after a recent investigation of the plant by the Clarion Ledger revealed a refinery that cut corners on record keeping, at times risking environmental and fire damage. 

In July, firefighters found fire coming from diesel storage containers. Three JFD engines put the fire out with foam.

Then, Investigator Scott Peacock with the department’s arson division concluded the fire originated at a recycling pump, which he determined was not up to code as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

The fire was classified as accidental. 

Councilman Kenneth Stokes, whose ward includes the industrial park where Jaxon is located, repeated concerns this weekend that the plant is an environmental hazard to nearby residents. He first made public those concerns in 2017, telling city leaders the plant should not be allowed to open. 

A previous investigation of a fire at Jaxon Energy, LLC in July found the plant was not up to code as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

The councilman is now calling for an investigation. 

“Normally when you’re going to have any type of company that’s dealing with environmental control or environmental issues, you place them in a rural area where there’s no people who are going to be harmed,” Stokes said at a news conference Sunday. “This was in the middle of the city of Jackson. This cannot go without being investigated.” 

City sues plant over hazardous leaks

In April, the city of Jackson took legal action against the company and sued them in federal court over a failure to report a series of hazardous leaks at the plant from December of 2018 to June of 2019. Those leaks wound their way through waterways and storm water drains and into Town Creek, according to the city’s complaint.

Top officials at the company instructed employees to ignore or conceal repeated safety standards for the disposal of hazardous materials, according to accounts of former employees.  

When lower level employees complained, they were told to mind their own business and the violations were never reported to the state, according to lawsuits filed by both the city and former employees.

In July 2019, the state’s environmental agency received two anonymous pollution complaints about Jaxon. In addition to more spills, black dumpsters had been smoking for two weeks after a “dangerous catalyst” was dumped there, according to one complaint. 

Officials with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality met with company representatives and inspected the facility later that month. They found evidence of diesel spills in a drainage ditch to the east of the plant and in the loading area of a railway. 

But during the meeting, plant officials said they couldn’t find required monthly storm water records. As a result, regulators cited the company for several violations.

Meanwhile, the EPA has put Jaxon in “significant/category 1 noncompliance” in the last three reported quarters, its most serious level of violation, according to a detailed report from the agency’s Enforcement and Compliance history.  

 Attorneys for the city and Jaxon are now in settlement talks. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Jackson Fire Department and the State Fire Marshal’s Office were investigating the cause of the fire. 

Contact Justin Vicory at 769-572-1418 or jvicory@gannett.com. Follow @justinvicory on Twitter.

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