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Florida DEP fines DeLand plant for improper disposal of sludge

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took formal legal enforcement action against Thatcher Chemical of Florida, Inc. for improper disposal of ferric sulfide sludge into the environment at their DeLand, Florida site. The DEP identified numerous violations of State environmental regulations at Thatcher Chemical's two Florida locations. These discoveries require immediate corrective actions, including cleanup of contaminated soil, and payment of civil penalties of more than $230,000.

Thatcher Chemical of Florida, Inc. operates chemical production facilities in DeLand and Palmetto, Florida. An anonymous complaint indicating chemicals were being buried on site prompted DEP staff to inspect the DeLand facility where they found a significant amount of waste and contaminated soil on the grounds. It is estimated that facility staff unlawfully buried between 100 to 200 thousand pounds of ferric sulfate sludge in the woods behind the plant during 2010 and 2011. Ferric sulfate sludge is a byproduct of the facility's production process. During an inspection of the company's Palmetto site the DEP discovered pollutants being discharged into the ground and storm-water management system near the facility.

What makes this discovery of particular concern is the close proximity of the DeLand facility to an elementary school and the St. Johns River. On Google maps it appears the school is about .5 miles from the Thatcher Chemical facility and the St. Johns River flows about 3.5 miles from the site. The chemicals buried in the ground could leach into the aquifer and contaminate the water supplies or into the air to causing nose and throat irritation.

Ferric sulfate sludge can be used by water treatment facilities to purify water by removing heavy metals from wastewater, however when not used for this purpose it must be disposed of properly. The compound ferric sulfate is high in iron content and very acidic, thus it will alter soil ph which will cause some plants unable to survive in the affected area. It is known to be hazardous to aquatic life in high concentrations.

“The Department of Environmental Protection takes our role of protecting public health and the environment serious and we are committed to making sure facilities are in compliance with applicable regulations,” said Jeff Prather, Director of DEP’s Central District in a recent DEP press release. “When a business takes actions that are calculated, grossly negligent, and potentially harmful to the environment, we will pursue formal enforcement with maximum penalties.”

First and foremost, the DEP works to assist businesses to understand and adhere to Florida's rules and regulations, but when they discover businesses that have not complied with them despite the DEP's efforts to assist, then formal enforcement actions are initiated. Currently, the DEP is consulting with law enforcement officials to determine if criminal action needs to be taken against the company.

The good news is that cases like this are few and far between. Of the almost 75,000 facilities regulated by the DEP are in compliance. Last year in 2013, the DEP conducted tens of thousands of inspections and monitoring samples statewide and found 96 percent of the facilities in compliance.

For more information about DEP's compliance rates and outreach efforts visit their website.

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