By Brenden West
The next immediate step in recovering hazardous mercury from an Archer Daniels Midland well is to determine the liquid's specific location, said an Iowa DNR official. Until then, no specific plans for containing the mercury can take place.
"The main thing they're looking at right now is it's going to be kind of a water analysis of different levels of that well to detect any movement," said Kevin Baskins, DNR media spokesman. "Once they're able to determine where it's at, we'll be looking for a proposal for how they plan to recover."
A seal tank containing the hazardous fluid spilled Nov. 6 when a contractor on the ADM site was attempting to remove a submersible pump from a well. No one was injured during the incident, and the DNR and ADM were able to contain the area by removing mercury that had spilled onto nearby soil as well as shutting down the well. That well remains inoperable according to a site assessment plan submitted by ADM on Jan. 10.
Baskins said the DNR has reviewed and approved ADM's plan to recover the remaining mercury. The company is attempting to locate the liquid by dropping cameras into the well. Baskins said the mercury may be bunched in one location, but it's also possible the material has spread out into other lumps. Neither the DNR nor ADM knows how deep inside the well the liquid resides.
"It could be in a lump form, it could be in fragments, we don't know," Baskins said.
Because of the circumstances, the DNR has asked that ADM give monthly reports about its findings. Baskins said those reports are due on the 15th of each month until the hazard has been completely removed.
This is an unprecedented circumstance for the DNR, said Baskins. To his knowledge, the department has never dealt with a mercury spill. There are no stipulations that mercury seals cannot be used by plants such as ADM, although the company has now removed all mercury seals from its operation.
"We've never really had a situation like this," Baskins said. He added that this is has presented a "unique challenge" for the department. "The aspect that we're focusing on most right now is to make sure they keep moving."
The DNR's caveat to keep the department informed was the only addition made to ADM's assessment plan. The first ADM report is due to the DNR on Feb. 15.