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No notice of big spill has officials concerned

Staff writer

Hillsboro officials are concerned that Cooperative Grain and Supply didn’t contact local responders when a fertilizer storage tank ruptured, spilling more than 22,000 gallons of liquid fertilizer.

The city’s first responders were “ready, willing, and able” to help, Mayor Lou Thurston said.

“The only thing that kept us from assisting in this case was a lack of notification,” Thurston said. “I hope that if something like this were to occur in the future, we would be notified so we would be able to positively respond.”

Hillsboro firefighters are trained on hazardous spills and they could have formed a dam to contain the spill and identified the hazard level of the fertilizer, fire chief Ben Steketee said.

Firefighters also would have notified emergency management and summoned help from others trained in hazardous materials containment if needed, Steketee said.

Thurston said the city would review and amend its local emergency response procedures.

The spill, at Cooperative Grain and Supply’s crop production facility, overflowed a containment area and ran through a parking area, into a street.

It was noticed the morning of Sept. 18 by a customer who drove past and saw liquid running along the edge of the street, co-op manager Jerry Fenske said.

The customer contacted cooperative officials. Employees went to see what was happening.

The company notified Kansas Department of Health and Environment at 2 p.m. Sept. 18 but did not contact local emergency responders or authorities.

Whether to notify local agencies was up to the cooperative, KDHE spokesman Philip Harris said.

Soil and gravel are being being removed from the area and taken to a special landfill at McPherson, per KDHE instructions, Fenske said.

“They want us to remove the rock, and they will come test the soil,” Fenske said.

He expects two truckloads will be taken to McPherson, but KDHE could order more soil and gravel removed after it returns to the facility next week.

“It’s a matter of ensuring the soil is not contaminated,” Fenske said.

Fenske said the tanks contained a 10-34-0 liquid fertilizer blend. The fertilizer is a transparent green fluid containing a solution of 10% nitrogen and 34% phosphate.

The solution is not considered hazardous, Harris said, but whether the spill is a hazard to groundwater still is under investigation.

“The physical exposure threat is minimal,” Harris said. “If someone comes into contact with the fertilizer, we recommend they seek medical attention if irritation or symptoms occur.”

The facility has eight 20,000 tanks plumbed through a manifold and a containment area that holds 110% of a single full tank, Fenske said.

The co-op wouldn’t respond Monday or Tuesday to questions about how much fertilizer actually flowed out and how much property damage the incident caused.

Fenske speculated Sept. 21 the original tank rupture might have been caused by weather and been followed by ruptures of other tanks.

“Saturday night was very windy, and there was a lot of lightning,” Fenske said. “Multiple tanks are damaged.”

An insurance adjuster was on the scene Sept. 21 and more was expected to be known after damage was assessed, Fenske said.

Cooperative’s bulk plant will need to be rebuilt, Fenske said.

Last modified Sept. 28, 2022

 

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