By JONI JAMES and BILL VARIAN
Published September 5, 2004
[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
Fluid escapes through a breach at the top of the Cargill Fertilizer, Inc. gypsum stack located east of US 41A and north of Riverview Drive.
TAMPA -- State officials said a 6-foot breach of a dike holding acidic fluid at Cargill's Riverview phosphate facility during Sunday's hurricane led to the release of a large amount of toxic acid.
The company is hoping to protect against toxic environmental impact by using the surrounding stormwater system to mix lime with the acidic fluid and neutralize it.
But it's not a sure thing, acknowledged Colleen Castille, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary. The stormwater system has the capacity to hold only about 20 per cent of the discharge at a time. The stormwater system flows into a creek and then into Hillsborough Bay.
"By the time it discharges into the canal to the creek, it should be treated," Castille said. "But we won't know for sure until the storm has passed."
The breach was caused when heavy winds created high waves that bashed the dike's southwest corner, Castille said.
The fluid, untreated, would be toxic to fish, wildlife and humans. "It would give you burns if you walk through it," Castille said.
Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean said the county's Environmental Protection Commission also has been notified, along with the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard will be playing the lead role in attempting to respond to the situation in the short term, once storm conditions allow, she said.