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Asunto:[LEA-Venezuela] Cargill causa derrames de amargos en Bahia de San Fracisco, California
Fecha:Domingo, 5 de Junio, 2005  08:27:55 (-0400)
Autor:Jorge Hinestroza M. <vitae>

      Posted on Sat, Jun. 04, 2005

      Company spills brine at S.F. Bay for 3rd time in less than 3 years

      By Paul Rogers

      Mercury News

      In the third such incident in less than three years, Cargill Salt, an
industrial salt evaporation company based in Newark, spilled nearly 18,000
gallons of toxic brine along the eastern shoreline of San Francisco Bay this

      The spill occurred Wednesday about 2:15 p.m. near the Newark Barge
Canal, an inlet south of the Dumbarton Bridge near Cargill's facilities
where it produces salt for roads, food and medical uses.

      It was unclear Friday if wildlife were harmed by the spill of bittern,
a toxic byproduct of making salt that is up to 10 times as salty as the
ocean. State officials who responded after Cargill reported the incident
Wednesday said they did not see floating fish or other evidence of
ecological damage. However, bittern is heavier than water and can sink to
the bottom, affecting species there.

      After Cargill accidentally spilled 36,900 gallons of bittern in the
same area in September 2002, following a pipe failure, several commercial
fishermen in the South Bay reported reduced shrimp catches that persisted
for months.

      In the latest incident, Cargill workers opened the valve on the bottom
of a rail car that was parked on train tracks adjacent to the Newark Barge
Canal. The rail car had been returned by a customer of Cargill's and
identified by Union Pacific railroad as empty, said Lori Johnson, a
spokeswoman for Cargill.

      When the workers opened the valve, the contents rushed out,
overwhelming a containment basin. Cargill loads bittern into rail cars in
the area. The bittern comes from its salt evaporation ponds and is used
around the country as a product to de-ice roads.

      `Clearly an accident'

      ``It was clearly an accident,'' Johnson said. ``It happened very
quickly and we reported it very quickly to all of the authorities. We don't
think much of anything -- if anything -- got to Newark Slough.''

      Johnson said the rail car held about 17,650 gallons. The company was
able to contain or recover about 6,000 gallons, she said. The rest poured
onto a dirt road, where some flowed into surrounding marshlands and some
flowed into channels that feed into the canal. The canal empties into Newark
Slough, which drains into the bay.

      Scott Murtha, a warden for the state Office of Spill Prevention and
Response, said he took water quality samples the day of the incident. Those
were taken by the Alameda County District Attorney's office and have been
sent to a state lab for analysis, he said.

      Cargill also had a bittern spill on April 17, 2004, according to state
records. That spill occurred from a cracked pipe on the company's Redwood
City Facility on Seaport Boulevard at the Port of Redwood City. Johnson said
some bittern went into the storm drain there.

      The incidents have raised concerns among environmental groups.

      Following the company's 2002 spill, officials at the state Regional
Water Quality Control Board in Oakland opened an investigation that could
have resulted in pollution fines of up to $300,000. But it took no
enforcement action.

      2002 case

      Bruce Wolfe, executive officer of the water board, said Friday that
the case is still open, and that it had been delayed because the two staff
members assigned to the case had departed. Also, state Fish and Game
officials did not take water quality samples in 2002 immediately after the
incident, as they did this time, providing limited evidence.

      ``The case is still open,'' Wolfe said. ``There is an indication,
however, that there are ongoing spills that need to be addressed. Our
options include continuing to see how we address the 2002 event -- either as
a separate event or part of a pattern.''

      Environmentalists said the state should have acted already.

      ``Accidents happen,'' said Sejal Chokski, director of advocacy group
San Francisco Baykeeper. ``But Cargill is responsible. They should be fined,
and they should have been fined in the 2002 spill. Because they weren't
there was no deterrent.''

      Cargill, an agribusiness giant based in Minneapolis, gained national
attention in 2003 when it sold 16,500 acres of salt evaporation ponds to the
state and federal government for $100 million. The ponds are visible to
airline travelers flying over the bay because of the algae that sometimes
gives them a reddish hue. Government biologists are working on plans now to
restore the ponds to wetlands for fish and wildlife. The project will take
place over 30 years and ranks as the largest wetlands restoration ever
attempted on the West Coast.

      Cargill continues to make salt on about 11,000 acres in the East Bay.


      Contact Paul Rogers at progers@... or (408) 920-5045.


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