September 27th 2016


FL officials monitor cleanup of radioactive sinkhole, toxic water

By Kimberly Wright




(RNN) – Florida officials are monitoring the cleanup efforts of a fertilizer company after a sinkhole swallowed millions of gallons of toxic wastewater.

A 45-foot sinkhole opened up at Mosaic’s New Wales facility in Mulberry, FL, which produces phosphate fertilizer and animal feed ingredients.

About 215 million gallons of toxic mining wastewater drained into the Floridan aquifer, which provides water to millions. The U.S. Geological Survey called it “one of the most productive aquifers in the world." 

The state agency said that groundwater monitoring indicates the toxic water is staying on site as the wastewater is pumped out. The state is evaluating the groundwater via a system of monitoring wells.

The Floridan aquifer system provides water for several large cities, including Savannah and Brunswick, GA, as well as Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Orlando, and St. Petersburg, FL. 

Environmental Protection Agency inspections found that the wastewater includes "highly corrosive substances from its fertilizer operations, which qualify as hazardous waste," as well as phosphogypsum, a radioactive material,

"Since Mosaic’s initial report of the water loss incident at its Polk County New Wales facility on Aug. 28, DEP has maintained strict oversight of the recovery process and made frequent site visits to ensure timely and appropriate response continues in order to safeguard public health and natural resources," the department noted. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an emergency rule Monday ensuring that local governments are notified within 24 hours following a pollution incident. Even though the state was notified within 24 hours, it took three weeks for the public to be notified.

“While DEP was on-site to investigate the situation at Mosaic in less than 24 hours and followed current state laws to notify the public, our laws are outdated and must immediately be changed," he said. Scott said he's going to fight for legislation that will ensure the public is notified within 24 hours after such incidents, and see that companies that don't will be fined heavily.

In October 2015, the EPA and the Department of Justice announced Mosaic Fertilizer's settlement of nearly $2 billion to “address environmental impacts from fertilizer production.” The funds include a $630 million trust fund, which will be invested until it reaches $1.8 billion, to address the treatment of hazardous materials wastewater at eight plants in Florida and Louisiana, including the New Wales plant.

"At Mosaic's eight facilities in Florida and Louisiana, hazardous waste from fertilizer production is stored in large piles, tanks, ditches and ponds; the piles can reach 500 feet high and cover more than 600 acres, making them some of the largest man-made waste piles in the United States," the EPA said.

The state of Florida is holding about 1 billion tons of the radioactive phosphogypsum in 25 stacks, about 22 of which are in central Florida, according to the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute, part of Florida Polytechnic University.

Because of its geography, which is underlain with limestone and dolostone bedrock, Florida is susceptible to sinkholes, the state department of Environmental Protection stated.

"And sinkholes can pose special environmental problems. Many of the carbonate rocks in which sinkholes develop are part of the state's freshwater aquifer system. Open sinkholes provide direct access to the aquifer for many kinds of pollutants," the Department of Environmental Protection stated.

In February 2013, Jeff Bush, 36, died when his bedroom was swallowed up by a sinkhole in Seffner, FL. Seffner is about 23 miles from Mulberry, the location of Mosaic's New Wales facility.

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