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Asunto:[LEA-Venezuela] Esperan multas para Cargill Salt por derrames de amargos en San Francisco
Fecha:Jueves, 15 de Mayo, 2003  22:04:35 (-0400)
Autor:Jorge Hinestroza <vitae3>

Science & Environment  




 Posted on Thu, Mar. 20, 2003  


Cargill toxic spill under investigation

By Paul Rogers



SAN JOSE - Cargill Salt's sale this month of 16,500 acres of industrial salt ponds to the public for wildlife refuges does not let the company off the hook for spilling toxic liquid into San Francisco Bay last fall, state water pollution officials say.


"We're handling it like any other spill; it definitely hasn't been dropped," said Loretta Barsamian, executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, based in Oakland. "It is still under review and investigation."


Barsamian, the state's top water pollution official in the Bay Area, said she doesn't have a timetable for deciding whether to recommend a fine against Cargill. The company faces civil penalties that could total $300,000. Documents are being assembled, Barsamian said, and a final decision could come in a matter of months.


"We always want to make sure our investigations are thorough and they stand up," Barsamian said.


The spill occurred six months ago this week.


On Sept. 17, Cargill officials reported to state authorities that a mishap with a pipe at the company's Newark plant site released 30,000 gallons of bittern, a type of toxic brine with salinity levels up to 10 times as salty as the ocean, into a canal that feeds into Mowry Slough in the Fremont area.


The slough is home to harbor seals and several sensitive species, including the California clapper rail, an endangered bird.


Since passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, it has been illegal to discharge bittern, a byproduct of Cargill's solar salt evaporation process, into the Bay. The company has collected millions of gallons of bittern in several large bayfront ponds around the South Bay and disposes of some of it by selling it as a product used in de-icing roads.


The company, part of Minneapolis-based agribusiness giant Cargill Inc., has won recent praise from Gov. Gray Davis, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other leaders for agreeing to sell 16,500 acres of salt ponds ringing 20 miles of shoreline from Hayward to Alviso to Redwood City for $100 million to be converted back into tidal marshes for wildlife.


Escrow on that deal closed March 6 after more than two years of negotiations. The company continues to make salt for roads, food and medicine on a smaller parcel of land on the Newark waterfront.


Having heard nothing for six months in the pollution case, some environmentalists privately were concerned that the Davis administration had decided to drop the case so as not to upset talks over the landmark salt ponds sale.


But Lori Johnson, a spokeswoman for Cargill, said the company never pressured the Davis administration to drop potential pollution fines.


"There was zero, absolutely no role," she said. "It wasn't even discussed."


Florence LaRiviere, co-founder of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, based in Palo Alto, said it's time for the state to hold Cargill accountable.


"I think six months is long enough," LaRiviere said. "They have had adequate chance to study what the effects are and how widespread they are."


Johnson said her company has provided documents to the regional water board. The mishap, she said, occurred when Cargill crews accidentally cut a pipe that was used to transport bittern to rail cars.


"The entire pipe has been filled with concrete," she said. "There is no chance of this kind of thing ever happening again."


Johnson said the company conducted water testing that showed bittern levels in the water had dispersed within 48 hours. At the time, wildlife managers in the area said the accident burned pickleweed and other marsh vegetation, but it remains unclear whether any wildlife was harmed.


Over the past three years, the regional water board has issued $2.9 million in fines against 85 companies or agencies that polluted the Bay or other waterways.


The largest fine was $367,000, last May against C&H Sugar in Rodeo. State inspectors discovered in 1999 that the company had been falsifying reports and illegally dumping chlorine into San Francisco Bay as part of its sugar-making process.


Last month, in a more typical case, the regional board fined the city of Pacifica $77,000 for a sewage spill in December 2001, off Linda Mar Beach from one of its pump stations.


Cargill emphasizes that the spill was an accident that it regrets. But environmentalists are unmoved.


"Usually, in these incidents, whether it was an accident or not is not the issue," said Marc Holmes, a wetlands expert with the Bay Institute, based in San Rafael. "The government tries to encourage that corporations ensure that accidents don't happen again. So I think some kind of fine in this case is appropriate."


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