The settlement, reached Friday, resolves CF Industries' violations of the federal law governing hazardous waste, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, RCRA, according to the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency.
The company will pay a civil penalty of $701,500, accelerate $55 million of funding for future closure, maintenance and monitoring activities, and provide $163.5 million in financial assurances to guarantee appropriate closure and long-term care of the facility.
CF Industries, a publicly traded manufacturer of phosphate and nitrogen fertilizers based in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, Illinois, operates a 400-acre phosphogypsum stack and associated ponds for storing mineral processing wastes from its phosphoric acid production operations in Plant City.
Phosophogypsum stack system (Photo courtesy EPA)
One of the largest integrated ammonium phosphate fertilizer complexes in the United States, the Plant City facility converts the phosphate concentrate produced at the company's Hardee County, Florida operation into approximately 2.1 million tons of phosphate fertilizer each year.
Between December 2004 and January 2005, inspectors from the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection discovered that CF Industries was treating, storing and disposing of hazardous wastes in the stack and ponds without a permit and was failing to meet land disposal restrictions required under RCRA.
The manufacturer also had failed provide adequate financial assurance for closure, long-term care and third-party liability for its facility.
"We are pleased to have resolved this issue through a negotiated settlement that reaffirms our commitment to environmental stewardship," said Stephen Wilson, chairman, president and chief executive officer of CF Industries.
"We have always sought to lead the industry in implementing practices that protect our natural resources, such as construction of our industry-first fully lined phosphogypsum stack system at Plant City," Wilson said.
The demand for fertilizers and animal feed additives accounts for about 95 percent of the 10 million metric tons of phosphoric acid that is made each year in the United States. The production of each ton of phosphoric acid is accompanied by the production of 4.5 tons of the by-product calcium sulfate, also known as phosphogypsum.
Phosphate rock, which is processed to make phosphoric acid, contains naturally occurring radioactive elements or radionuclides, which end up in the phosphogypsum.
The phosphogypsum is separated from the phosphoric acid in the form of a watery slurry stored in open-air stacks. As the stacks grow, the phosphogypsum slurry forms a small pond on top of each stack. Workers dredge solid material from the ponds to build up dikes around them and the ponds become reservoirs for storing and supplying process water.
As part of the settlement agreement, CFI has implemented comprehensive waste containment and spill prevention measures to better manage its wastes.
The company also has reconfigured scrubbers to eliminate all corrosive fertilizer wastewaters and reduce ammonia releases to the environment, and has constructed a treatment system for hazardous wastes generated in fertilizer operations.
CFI has completed the full site investigation required under the settlement to assess the degree of environmental contamination emanating from the stacks and ponds, and will take steps to remove and treat contaminated soils.
The company also has agreed to financial assurance to cover the $163.5 million needed to fund all closure and long-term care obligations after the facility's useful life ends. The company further will pay a civil penalty of $701,500 for its past violations, to be split evenly between the United States and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which is a co-plaintiff in this action.
In a national enforcement effort, EPA has focused on compliance in the phosphoric acid industry because of the high risk of releases of acidic wastewaters at these facilities, which can cause groundwater contamination and fish kills.
"Mismanagement of hazardous waste from mining and mineral processing is a serious matter," said Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno. "The companies targeted in the National Enforcement Initiative for Mining and Mineral Processing cannot proceed with business as usual. The agreement being lodged today requires, in addition to future compliance and an appropriate penalty, that CFI reduce and change its handling of hazardous wastes throughout its facility."
"Wastes from mineral processing and associated fertilizer production can pose a serious risk to our nation's drinking water and the health of families," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
"Mining and mineral processing is one of our National Enforcement Initiatives and we are working to minimize or eliminate risks to communities and the environment from illegal hazardous waste operations at phosphoric acid and other high risk mineral processing facilities."
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