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Central Illinois agrichemical facilities all abide by a set of stringent rules to contain any spills and prevent leakage of pesticides from storage tanks.

As a result, those sorts of accidents are few and far between. That's good news for people who live near the facilities. Curbing spills and leaks protects groundwater that many rural residents drink.

That said, Illinois Agriculture Department officials know facilities are living under rules imposed in 1990. And even the newer facilities are more than a decade old.

Furthermore, managers at the facilities have changed since 1990. IDA officials believe that's cause not only to review the rules but add some new teeth.

So, the Agrichemical Facility Containment Initiative has been launched. It asks agrichemical facility owners and operators to first review their permits and site- specific requirements with employees.

IDA officials would also like to see owners and operators complete a checklist of industry accepted best management practices. Those include

w Using drip pans under distribution points vulnerable to leaks.

w Washing structures soon after releases.

w Removing effluent from sump pumps.

w Sweeping dry fertilizer daily from operational areas.

w Clearing debris from containment structures.

w Decontaminating synthetic liners.

w Conducting weekly inspections of containment systems.

w Training new employees on containment management.

w Parking dirty equipment on containment pads to collect run-off.

w Conducting monthly physical inventories.

The plan further involves stronger inspection and permit processes. Department inspectors typically visit each facility once per year. Inspectors must conduct follow-up inspections to verify any structural deficiencies have been corrected. Currently, facilities are required to notify the department when such work has been corrected.

Enforcement action will be initiated for noncompliance cases. And renewal of five-year permits will be contingent on correction of identified deficiencies.

"Sixteen years ago when Illinois' containment regulations were adopted, industry played a significant role. It will have to play a significant role again to revitalize the program and ensure the public's health and safety continues to be protected," said Warren Goetsch, IDA environmental programs bureau chief.

Consumers know their cheese

Remember the adage about the customer always being right? Well, turns out the saying really takes the cheese when it comes to lovers of cheddar, Swiss and Asiago.

A recent Norwegian study pitted expert cheese tasters against the average cheese eater. The experts evaluated 12 Norwegian cheeses to predict their acceptance by consumers. Five of the cheeses were then offered to 110 consumers, who gave opinions about overall likeability, flavor intensity and degree of soft or firm texture.

A cheese that scored lowest with the experts found much higher favor among the consumers. The amateur tasters actually liked flavor and texture characteristics that the experts considered defects.

Norwegian researchers concluded it's important for food companies to study consumer responses and factor them into quality standards and tolerance limits. The study was printed in a recent edition of the Journal of Food Quality, a scientific, peer-reviewed publication devoted to food quality issues.

Pantagraph Farm Editor Chris Anderson writes about agriculture every Wednesday. Contact her at candersonyayaypantagraph .

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