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HAMILTON COUNTY: Spill contaminates groundwater at PCS

Published By: Suwannee Democrat

An estimated 84 million gallons of contaminated processed water from PCS's Swift Creek plant was released into groundwater through a sinkhole discovered last Thursday between 3-4 p.m., according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and PCS spokesman Mike Williams.

As of Tuesday, site inspections and ongoing collection of monitoring data has shown that PCS production wells are containing the contaminated water on site. It appears there was no contamination of the aquifer offsite or nearby drinking wells, according to a DEP press release.

"Our first concern is the protection of public health and safety," said DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole in a press release. "Once we were notified of the sinkhole our first priority was to work with PCS and the appropriate agencies to determine that the groundwater contamination has not moved off the PCS property. We will continue to work with the company over the coming weeks to ensure proper containment and remediation of the area."

The sinkhole was discovered in a phosphogypsum stack at the plant. Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of processing phosphate ore. In addition to radioactivity, phosphogypsum contains arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, fluoride, zinc, antimony, acid water and copper, according to the Web site of the Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/neshaps/subpartr/about.html). Williams noted the gypsum produced by PCS is cleared by the EPA and is approved for sale as an agricultural product.

Water used in phosphate processing drained into the sinkhole, said Williams. PCS employees discovered the sinkhole in the third cell of the phosphogypsum stack after noticing one of five processed water ponds, which are located on top of the stack, swirling, according to Williams.

"PCS is committed to being a good steward to the environment," said Williams. "The company will do whatever it takes to remediate the sinkhole damage."

PCS is working closely with DEP and state and local government to monitor a network of monitoring wells on and off-site, said Williams.

A senior hydrogeologist with Suwannee River Water Management said he does not foresee any long-term threat.

"It appears the supply wells captured most of the contaminated water," said Carlos Herd. Sampling over the weekend resulted in promising finds. "There were hits on-site. But it looks like those levels are coming back down." Herd said sampling off-site has not resulted in any harmful findings.

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