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Cargill plant fares well in Jeanne

Cargill Crop Nutrition's plant in Riverview, which suffered major damage during Frances, made it through Hurricane Jeanne unscathed.

But a plant the fertilizer manufacturer operates in Bartow did not fare so well.

More than 4.5-million gallons of contaminated water overflowed Sunday from a stormwater pond there. It is meandering toward the Peace River. Cargill is trying to treat the acidic water along the way to minimize environmental damage.

The accident occurred after Jeanne dropped 12 inches of rain at the site, said Cargill vice president Gray Gordon.

In the midst of a hurricane season that has had fertilizer companies throughout the region scrambling to prevent catastrophic spills of polluted water, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is considering regulatory changes for the industry, said DEP spokesman Russell Schweiss.

The need for changes came to light, Schweiss said, after rain this year pushed the water storage capacity of fertilizer companies to the breaking point.

At Cargill's Riverview plant, waves whipped up by Frances caused a break in a dike Sept. 5 and forced Cargill to dump nearly 70-million gallons of treated but toxic water into a creek that leads to Tampa Bay. The company repaired the break and took extra precautions in advance of hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne.

On Sept. 14, the DEP ordered fertilizer companies to stabilize their dikes or reduce dangerously high water levels. As a result, hundreds of millions of gallons of contaminated water are being released from six fertilizer factories into waterways in Polk and Hillsborough. The water is being treated to meet federal guidelines, which require neutralizing the acid in the water to protect fish, but are less stringent than state standards on nitrogen content, which can damage plants.

"We will be reviewing the (laws) and looking to institute changes that would avert this situation in the future," Schweiss said.