Company spills fertilizer, kills fish

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

May 18, 2017 at 10 p.m.
Updated May 19, 2017 at 6 a.m.

A tugboat slowly maneuvers an empty barge to port by the Victoria Barge Canal.

A tugboat slowly maneuvers an empty barge to port by the Victoria Barge Canal.   advocate file photo for The Victoria Advocate

A company continues to clean up 34,000 gallons of fertilizer it spilled in the Victoria Barge Canal.

Gavilon Fertilizer spilled the urea ammonium nitrate liquid fertilizer April 23 after an underground pipeline to a loading dock ruptured. The spill resulted in a fish kill, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Gavilon is removing contaminated soil as well as repairing and testing the transfer pipe, company spokesman Patrick Burke said.

"Gavilon, who has operated at the Port of Victoria since 1999, places the highest importance on employee and environmental safety," Burke said. "We will continue to work with authorities to avoid future events and maintain our high safety standards in future operations."

Both TCEQ and Texas Parks and Wildlife are investigating the spill.

The TCEQ's investigator has 60 days from the completion of his or her report to file it, TCEQ spokesman Brian McGovern said.

From Sept. 1, 2011, to Aug. 31, 2016, TCEQ did not send Gavilon any notices of violations. That information came from TCEQ's latest available compliance history report.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Kills and Spills Team Regional Coordinator Alex Nunez visited the site of the spill twice: April 25 and 28.

During those visits, he counted the dead fish in the water and measured their lengths.

"We take the measurement because if there is a responsible party involved, that goes to the dollar amount which that responsible party will be liable for," Nuñez said Thursday. "A majority appear right now to be sheepshead and black drum."

Nuñez said he would not have an estimate of how many fish were killed until Friday.

He said the ammonia could be toxic to the fish and possibly cause a secondary kill if it causes an algal bloom.

"I think it's already dispersed, so I don't think there's any human health concerns," Nuñez said.

Neil Carman, who works for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, agreed.

He said ammonium nitrate liquid fertilizer is commonly used on farms throughout the U.S.

"It's not a deadly chemical for the most part, but it still poses environmental concerns to wildlife," Carman said.

Gavilon was founded in 1874. Its headquarters are in Omaha, Neb.

On its website, the company states it leverages its expertise "in origination, storage and handling, transportation and logistics and risk management to get the best prices for our customers on a wide array of bulk fertilizer products," which include liquid fertilizers, nitrogen-based fertilizers, potash fertilizers and phosphate fertilizers.


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