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Star of the West cleans up flour spill
The last week of January brought a near-historic cold snap, plunging temperatures below zero and near minus 30 below with the wind chill.
The frigid conditions brought the usual trouble to the area: vehicles that would not start, frozen water pipes, frost-bit faces, school closings and over-taxed furnaces.
The artic cold and wind also created a wheat flour “snowstorm” at the Star of the West Milling Company and that impacted nearly 20 homes to the east and north east of the plant located at 121 East Tuscola Street.
During the third shift hours of Thursday, January 31, a breach took place from an exterior transfer line, causing wheat dust to spew into the air traveling as far northeast as Frankenmuth High School.
“Our internal review showed the separation was likely the result of the extremely cold temperatures between January 29 and 31,” Star of the West Milling Company CEO James Howe said.
Wheat dust is non-toxic, bio-degradable and poses no risk to human health. However, as strong southwesterly winds at the time of the spill caused flour dust to blow into residential neighborhoods just east and slightly north of Star’s location, several nearby homes will need to be cleaned.
Howe said the breach lasted an estimated 40-45 minutes as best guess. There was about 20,000 pounds of flour that was discharged due to the breach, with the vast majority staying on Star’s property.
"For reference, the trucks you see coming into the mill hold approximately 100,000 pounds of flour, to give you an idea of 20,000. 20,000 pounds is the same as 333 bushels of wheat or about the size of one of the larger wagons you might see coming into the Gera Plant,” Howe pointed out.
Howe said the firm was committed to a thorough cleanup.
“We deeply regret any inconvenience to our neighbors and we are committed to partnering with any affected homeowners to support a thorough and complete cleanup,” Howe stated.
Cleanup efforts began immediately, however, the extreme cold and another round of snow and ice halted the work. At the time Star personnel worked with Frankenmuth DPW employees to install catch-basin traps in the affected neighborhoods and used city sidewalk sweepers and vacuum trucks to assist the cleanup.
“We have also power washed the driveways, walks and concrete patios of 17 homes on Haas, School and Parker streets, and have provided free car wash vouchers to neighbors whose vehicles came in contact with the flour dust,” Howe said.
Star went as far as bringing in a Michigan State University Extension Service agent on site to examine the impact of flour dust on trees, shrubs and grass. The agent anticipates there will be no harmful effects.
Following an internal review, Star’s maintenance staff has replaced and upgraded the equipment that failed during the extreme weather conditions.
“We have also made the decision to discontinue transferring flour during third-shift hours to increase the likelihood any interruption in processing is detected as soon as possible,” Howe noted. “Our team deeply cares about our community and we are taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”