U.S. Water News Online
TAMPA, Fla. -- Hurricane Frances carved a huge gap in the
wall of a fertilizer company reservoir, spilling 41 million gallons
of acidic waste that posed a threat to aquatic life in a bay near
It could be days or weeks before a solid assessment of the
environmental effect is available, said Rick Garrity, director of
Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission.
"If we find significant impact, we'll keep following up," Garrity
The breach in a berm surrounding the reservoir happened during the
storm, starting as a 6-foot-wide gap created by storm-driven waves in
the reservoir, then growing quickly to 30 feet across and finally to
50 feet, said officials of Cargill Crop Nutrition, a unit of
Minnetonka, Minn.-based Cargill Inc.
An overflow ditch couldn't handle the spill, and for a while the
company ran out of a caustic solution used to buffer acid in the
escaping wastewater. Then, the storm prevented crews from beginning
It wasn't until midday early the next day that the company
announced that the wastewater had stopped flowing into a creek that
feeds Hillsborough Bay, on the northeast side of Tampa Bay.
"It's a serious spill," company Vice President Gray Gordon said.
"We're very upset about this, very concerned."
The spill threatens fish and other wildlife, not people, pets or
livestock, officials said.
The wastewater from phosphate production is high in nitrogen and
phosphorus, which promote the growth of algae that can reduce the
amount of oxygen in the water.
Garrity said his agency and the state Department of Environmental
Protection had warned Cargill about the levels of wastewater being
stored on the property.
There could be fines, and regulators also could make the company
pay for environmental damage and change its water retention design,
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