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Health and environmental problems surround chemical factory where acid puddle dissolved an inspector's boot, residents complain

Chemical factory

(NaturalNews) Large-scale fish kills, sulfuric acid leakages, acid mist and two employee deaths are the result of a phosphate fertilizer operation in Pascagoula, Mississippi, that's repeatedly violated state health and environmental regulations dating back to at least 2009.

Mississippi Phosphates, located on the deep-water channel at Pascagoula, operates two sulfuric acid plants, a phosphoric acid plant and a diammonium phosphate (DAP) granulation plant. Close to 1 million tons of DAP (the most widely used fertilizer), are produced at the plant each year.

Health and environmental effects caused by the phosphate manufacturer has sparked dozens of resident complaints, prompting the formation of a group called Cherokee Concerned Citizens, which provides a voice for those affected by the industry's pollution.

"I understand health issues occur all the time... but what we're dealing with is overwhelming and unnecessary," said Barbara Weckesser, the group's spokeswoman.

Mississippi residents complain of acid mist, fog, dust and strong odors caused by nearby phosphate producer

A survey of 97 households disclosed complaints of noises, dusts and strong odors by 94 families, according to a report by GulfLive.com. About 60 percent of surveyors reported pneumonia, respiratory and sinus infections and/or hospital stays.

A 2009 inspection of the plant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) resulted in part of an official's steel-toed boot melting off after walking through an acid puddle, which according to the Hattiesburg American is one of dozens of reports that year.

"Imminent and substantial" were just a couple of the words used by the EPA to describe the dangers surrounding the phosphate plant, which was given federal orders to "fix uncontrolled leaks and spills of sulfuric acid on its grounds, and stop untreated discharges to the adjacent bayou and uncontrolled spills and leaks of phosphoric acid to unlined ditches."

The EPA's orders to clean up were reinforced after more issues were discovered in 2011 and 2012; however, the problems continued.

Mississippi Phosphates has long history of health and environmental violations

In 2014, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) ordered the company to shut down two of its fertilizer plants after neighboring industry workers were forced to evacuate when an acid mist formed in the air, flowing from the nearby phosphate plant.

Meanwhile, unaware of the plant's ordered shutdown, neighbors living less than a mile away along the Bayou Casotte in east Pascagoula continued to complain about fertilizer pollution. Neighbors say the plant's pollution is "coming into their yards, onto their cars, onto their skin and into their lungs," reports confirm.

Despite $2.5 million pledged by Mississippi Phosphates for cleanup in 2009, environmental watchdog groups say the chronic history of problems is far from over.

In an attempt to curb public concern, the company promised to install $17,000 worth of sulfuric acid monitors in nearby neighborhoods, although they deny responsibility for "unpleasant emissions." The fertilizer producer also vowed to pay for continuous data monitoring and to report any high values to the MDEQ.

Residents were assured the company has no way of manipulating data.

In 2013, MDEQ issued a fishing and water contact closure for Bayou Casotte after low-pH waters released from Mississippi Phosphates caused a large fish kill. The public was advised to avoid the waters, and fisherman discouraged from consuming catch from the affected area.

In 2012, the company was ordered by the EPA to take immediate action after corrosive water was discovered outside of a perimeter dike. Later that year, two different explosions occurring within two weeks of each other killed two employees.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined 40 safety and health violations were related to the deaths.

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