MUSCATINE, Iowa — One spring day in 2010, the haze hanging over this Mississippi River town was worse than usual. It billowed from the smokestacks of a corn processing plant and blanketed the neighborhood across the street. It enshrouded homes and, seen from a certain angle, looked almost blue.
Kurt Levetzow watched from his car. An inspector with the state agency that enforces air pollution laws, he’d been fielding more and more citizen complaints lately about Grain Processing Corp., known as GPC.
The company’s plant sits on the edge of the town’s South End neighborhood, where black soot and bits of corn collect on cars and homes and many residents worry about what they’re breathing. Even on an ordinary day, a pungent burnt-corn odor hangs in the air, and the haze can be seen from miles away.
But Levetzow hadn’t seen anything like this. Driving through the neighborhood near the plant, he snapped pictures and took notes for the memo he would write. “I went through Muscatine on 3-26-10,” he wrote. “I was amazed at what I saw.”
A pickup truck came to a stop next to Levetzow’s car. It was a company security guard.
“Is there a problem?” the guard asked.
“Yes, there is,” Levetzow answered. “GPC is fogging that residential area with a blue haze.” Levetzow pointed. “You see what I mean?”
The guard looked over. “Ah, they’re getting used to that,” he said, chuckling.