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Mulberry Maintenance Crew Detects Ammonia Leak

Published on Aug 9, 2021

Bartow, Fla. (August 9, 2021) — Jim Gibbs was prepared to clean up oil drums and discarded oil filters on the side of Bonnie Mine Road earlier this year. At first, it seemed like just another oddity discarded along the roadside that, if left, could create a significant hazard. But something here was different.

Gibbs, who is a road foreman with Polk County’s Mulberry Maintenance Unit, teamed up with Burt McKee, Polk’s environmental regulatory coordinator, to gather up the illegally dumped oil. But when they got to the site, the smell of ammonia was in the air.

Not far from where they were, Gibbs could see all the grass had died, dirt was washed away from the road and the dying vegetation was spreading to the trees away from the road. Something was off.

As the pair walked closer, he could see a sign warning of an underground ammonia line was posted. He knew there was an ammonia leak that needed immediate attention.

“You could just smell the ammonia,” he said. “It’s a good thing that we were away from everything and no one lived around there. Ammonia takes the oxygen out of the air. And to catch this early was a good thing.”

The pipe, owned by Tampa Bay Pipeline and used by Mosaic’s Bartow and New Wales plants, was leaking minor amounts of the substance. It hadn’t reached the 100-pound level, which is the point at which state and federal laws require a company to report. Officials from Tampa Bay Pipeline initially attributed the grass kill to herbicide or fire, but later conceded the leak.

It was a hazard that needed to be fixed and McKee worked with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to get regulatory input on what needed to be done. After a site visit and continued discussion with FDEP officials, it was decided that Polk would oversee the proper cleanup and repair of the defective valve.

To fix the problem, Tampa Bay Pipeline took the defective valve out of service and installed a special shield around the valve, at a cost of about $167,500.

The shield was put in place on July 6 and the company installed Pensacola Bahia grass to the county’s right-of-way in its final step of repair.

The investigation into the matter was handled in partnership between Polk county’s Code Enforcement Division and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In a situation like this, the county is able to work with the local company and resolve the situation without a financial penalty, McKee said. “The idea is to catch these types of things when they are small.”