MAC: Mines and Communities

USA: Massive sinkhole at Mosaic waste pile leaks radioactive water into Floridan aquifer

Published by MAC on 2016-09-17
Source: Reuters, CBD, Ecowatch, AP (2016-09-19)

Protesters picketed outside of Mulberry City Hall to demand a solution

A sinkhole spanning 45 feet in diameter opened at a Mosaic Co. phosphate fertilizer facility in Florida, leaking 215 million gallons of “slightly radioactive water,” a company spokesman said.

Attorneys from ClassAction.com filed a 23-page class action complaint on behalf of local residents who rely on private wells as their source of water. The lawsuit was filed at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa.

"There are approximately 5,000 individuals who live in within five miles of the sinkhole who obtain their water from private wells and are impacted by the sinkhole. It is estimated there are over 1,500 private wells in the impacted area," it states.

Mosaic's New Wales facility at Mulberry, Florida, produces phosphate fertilizer and animal feed ingredients. Finished products include fertilizers Diammonium Phosphate (DAP), Monoammonium Phosphate (MAP) and Powdered MAP (PMAP); and feed ingredients: Biofos, Dynafos and Multifos.

Florida Residents Sue Mosaic Over Radioactive Sinkhole

Fertilizer giant has been slammed with a federal lawsuit over a massive radioactive sinkhole that opened under its New Wales plant in Mulberry, Florida.

Lorraine Chow

http://www.ecowatch.com/mosaic-radioactive-sinkhole-2013749187.html

Sep. 24, 2016

The sinkhole, formed below a phosphogypsum stack, has leaked an estimated 215 million gallons of contaminated wastewater into the Floridan Aquifer, posing a potentially serious threat to drinking water. To make matters worse, news reports indicate that the fertilizer giant and state officials knew about the problem for three weeks but failed to notify the public.

Attorneys from ClassAction.com filed a 23-page class action complaint on behalf of Nicholas Bohn, Natasha McCormick and Eric Weckman—local residents who rely on private wells as their source of water. The lawsuit was filed at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa.

"Residents in the communities that surround the New Wales facility have legitimate concern for the integrity and safety of their water supplies as the toxic radioactive and other chemical wastewater is in the Floridan Aquifer causing, and will continue to cause, water contamination," the complaint reads.

"There are approximately 5,000 individuals who live in within five miles of the sinkhole who obtain their water from private wells and are impacted by the sinkhole," it states. "It is estimated there are over 1,500 private wells in the impacted area."

Mosaic's "conscious actions and omissions disregarded foreseeable risks to human health and safety and to the environment," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages, including reimbursement or funding for private well testing, monitoring and treatment if tests show the well is contaminated.

Morgan & Morgan environmental attorney Rene Rocha is one of the attorneys taking on the case. When asked via email if the plaintiffs are seeking a specific dollar amount, Rocha explained to EcoWatch that the main intention of the lawsuit is to keep people safe and to hold Mosaic accountable.

"We are seeking recovery for all damages suffered by the residents in the area, but it is too early to assign any specific dollar amount to that," he wrote. "First and foremost we are concerned with ensuring the safety of people living nearby the facility, and the integrity of their water supply."

Since the Sept. 22 filing, Rocha said, "We have been contacted by many residents who are concerned."

A statement from ClassAction.com noted it is "yet unclear to what extent these wastes have travelled through the Aquifer, but the wastes contain extremely toxic and radioactive contaminants such as radium, radon, uranium, thorium, and lead, as well as other non-radioactive toxins." Its attorneys are continuing to monitor the environmental impact of the sinkhole, as well as any possible health risks posed by the water's contaminants.

"This lawsuit is about providing peace of mind to families living nearby the plant. It's about making sure they are confident their water is safe, and that they don't have to take the word of a company that repeatedly disregards the public and the environment in pursuit of profits," ClassAction.com attorney John Yanchunis said.

In response to the lawsuit, Mosaic spokeswoman Callie Neslund told the Associated Press, "We are reviewing the details of this filing and will respond through the judicial process."

Walt Precourt, Mosaic's senior vice president of phosphates, addressed the Polk County Board of County Commissioners on Sept. 20.

"On behalf of Mosaic and our nearly 4,000 employees in Florida, we'd like to express our sincere regret that the sinkhole and water recovery operations on our property have caused concerns for the community," he said. "I regret and apologize for not providing information sooner, and am committed to providing regular updates to the public as we move forward."

On its website, Mosaic says it is offering water tests free of charge. A third-party testing company has taken samples from 52 wells, with 210 testing appointments scheduled. Mosaic is also offering free bottled water to those who request it.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said in its most recent update that "ongoing monitoring of nearby wells continues to indicate that affected water is contained to the impacted site."

"The nearest private drinking well is around 3 miles away from the site, and thus far in DEP's investigation there is no indication that there is a threat to this well," the agency continued. "Both Mosaic and DEP will continue to perform sampling, and if any indication of off-site migration is seen, affected homeowners will be immediately notified."

"Mosaic wants to mine an additional 50,000 acres of Florida's beautiful, biodiverse lands, but this incident makes clear it can't even handle the radioactive waste it currently generates," said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "We must come together and demand that our counties, our state and our federal government reject further expansion of this dangerous industry."

Incidentally, as ClassAction.com pointed out on its website, Mosaic has somewhat of a "checkered past" with toxic messes. On October 2015, the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a nearly $2 billion hazardous waste settlement with Mosaic, forcing it to clean up 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste at eight facilities, including the New Wales site where the new sinkhole appeared.

The sinkhole was discovered by a Mosaic worker on Aug. 27 but news of its discovery was not made public until Sept. 11. Several local residents have spoken up since news broke.

"I'm not going to pay for it. They'll pay for it I'm pretty sure," Dixie Mason, who lives about two miles away from the sinkhole, told ABC Action News.

Preliminary reports from private wells showed "normal" readings of sodium, sulfate and fluoride. However, some neighbors have expressed confusion and frustration that radioactivity readings—the one thing everyone was looking for—were not yet provided in the report.


Neighbors file federal lawsuit against Mosaic

Tamara Lush

Associated Press - http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/bn9/2016/9/22/neighbors_file_feder.html

September 23, 2016

A federal lawsuit was filed late Thursday by three Central Florida residents who live near a fertilizer plant where more than 200 million gallons of contaminated wastewater leaked into one of the state's main underground sources of drinking water.

The proposed class-action lawsuit filed Thursday seeks to recover damages, including for the residents' possible losses of private wells, and for water testing, monitoring and treatment.

The lawsuit, filed by the Florida law firm of Morgan and Morgan and by Weitz & Luxenberg of New York, said the phosphate company's "conscious actions and omissions disregarded foreseeable risks to human health and safety and to the environment."

Mosaic, the world's largest supplier of phosphate, said a sinkhole opened up beneath a pile of waste material called a "gypsum stack." The 215-million gallon storage pond sat atop the waste mineral pile. The company said the sinkhole is about 45 feet in diameter.

In response to the lawsuit, Mosaic spokeswoman Callie Neslund said, "We are reviewing the details of this filing and will respond through the judicial process."

Mosaic says it's monitoring groundwater and has found no offsite impacts. It is offering free drinking water testing to the community.

According to a Sept. 21 news release on the company's website, Mosaic has scheduled or collected a total of 106 well water tests through a third-party testing company. They're being prioritized based on their proximity to the property containing the sinkhole.

Background

The sinkhole, discovered by a worker on Aug. 27, is believed to reach down to the Floridan aquifer, the company said in a news release. Aquifers are vast, underground systems of porous rocks that hold water and allow water to move through the holes within the rock.

News of the sinkhole wasn't released to the public until Sept. 11.

Some nearby residents are upset that it took so long for the company and local officials to discuss it. Mosaic acknowledged the information gap on Sept. 20.

"We continue to analyze the situation, and our response to it, and we realize we could have done a better job in providing timely information to our neighbors and the broader community," Walt Precourt, Senior Vice President of Phosphates for Mosaic, said in a statement during a Polk County Commission meeting. "I regret and apologize for not providing information sooner, and am committed to providing regular updates to the public as we move forward."

The suit, filed on behalf of three residents with private wells, says the plaintiffs "are at risk of drinking or using contaminated water" because of Mosaic's actions.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller says there's no evidence the contaminated water has moved beyond the site and is threatening groundwater supplies.

The Floridan aquifer is a major source of drinking water in the state. One of the highest producing aquifers in the world, it underlies all of Florida and extends into southern Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

According to the University of Florida, it's the principal source of groundwater for much of the state, and the cities of Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Tampa and St. Petersburg all rely on it. The aquifer also supplies water to thousands of domestic, industrial and irrigation wells throughout the state.

Mosaic began diverting the pond water into an alternate holding area to reduce the amount of drainage when the problem was first detected. The company said it has been "recovering the water by pumping through onsite production wells."


Sinkhole at Mosaic fertilizer site leaks radioactive water

Rod Nickel

Reuters - http://www.grainews.ca/daily/sinkhole-at-mosaic-fertilizer-site-leaks-radioactive-water

September 17, 2016

A sinkhole spanning 45 feet in diameter opened at a Mosaic Co. phosphate fertilizer facility in Florida, leaking 215 million gallons of “slightly radioactive water,” a company spokesman said Friday.

Mosaic said the monitoring system at its New Wales facility at Mulberry, Florida, showed a decline in water levels on Aug. 27 from the retention pond of a phosphogypsum stack, a hill of hazardous waste. Phosphogypsum is a radioactive byproduct resulting from the production of phosphate.

The Minnesota-based company immediately reported the incident to state and federal environmental authorities, Mosaic spokesman Ben Pratt said on Friday. But it did not otherwise report it publicly until posting information on its website on Thursday, he said.

The leaked water is enough to fill more than 300 Olympic swimming pools.

The nearly three-week gap between detecting the sinkhole and reporting it to the public is alarming, said Jacki Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It’s hard to trust them when they say ‘Don’t worry,’ when they’ve been keeping it secret for three weeks,” she said.

The sinkhole, located about 50 km from Tampa, damaged the liner system at the base of the stack, causing the pond on top to drain. Seepage continued and the sinkhole reached Florida’s aquifer, Mosaic said on its website.

Specific environmental and health concerns are the release of uranium, radium and radon gas, Lopez said. Once contaminants reach the aquifer, which extends from central Florida to Georgia, they can potentially travel hundreds of miles, she said.

“We don’t know what the long-term effects will be,” said Lopez. “If I were living in this area, and I had well water, I would be worried about my health.”

Mosaic said it had increased monitoring and sampling of groundwater and found no offsite impact. It also said it pumped water out of the affected pond to reduce the volume of leakage.

The company said it is attempting to recover the water through production wells on site.

The incident has not interrupted operations at the facility.

Mosaic shares fell 1.7 per cent, declining with other major fertilizer producers.

In 2015, Mosaic reached an US$800 million settlement with U.S. regulators over its waste management practices at plants in Florida and Louisiana.


Statement From Center for Biological Diversity on Sinkhole at Radioactive Strip Mine in Central Florida

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2016/florida-sinkhole-09-16-2016.html

September 16, 2016

News broke late Thursday that a massive sinkhole below a phosphate strip mine 30 miles east of Tampa has been releasing radioactive waste into the Floridan aquifer for three weeks. News reports indicate that Mosaic, the owner of the mine, and state officials have known about the problem for three weeks, but failed to notify the public.

The sinkhole formed below a phosphogypsum stack, which is a pile of radioactive waste hundreds of feet tall produced by phosphate mining, and in this case may pose a serious threat to drinking water for millions of Floridians.

“Enough is enough. Florida must finally take a stand against this destructive, radioactive phosphate mining that is putting our health and environment at risk,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Mosaic wants to mine an additional 50,000 acres of Florida’s beautiful, biodiverse lands, but this incident makes clear it can’t even handle the radioactive waste it currently generates. We must come together and demand that our counties, our state and our federal government reject further expansion of this dangerous industry.”

Radioactive phosphogypsum is produced during phosphate mining when sulfuric acid is applied to phosphoric ore, releasing naturally occurring uranium and radium. Besides leaving massive piles of radioactive waste, this process produces radon gas in the air, which is cancer causing.

Forty percent of the phosphate ore that’s mined in Florida is shipped overseas, but 100 percent of the radioactive phosphogypsum waste that’s generated remains in the United States, the majority of it in Florida, where it stays forever. That’s five tons of radioactive waste for every one ton of usable phosphate.

Phosphate mining creates 60-foot-deep to 80-foot-deep open pits thousands of acres wide. Florida is home to the world largest phosphate mine, and now Mosaic wants to strip mine an additional 52,000 acres in Manatee, Hardee and De Soto counties.

This is not the first time a sinkhole has opened up below a radioactive phosphogypsum stack, nor is it the first time Mosaic has had problems with handling its hazardous waste. In 2009 a sinkhole at the PCS White Springs facility released more than 90 million gallons of hazardous wastewaters into the Floridan aquifer.

In October 2015 the EPA and Mosaic settled a lawsuit regarding a series of alleged violations of how Mosaic handles and stores its hazardous waste, paying civil penalties to the feds and Florida.


Protests in Polk County over Mosaic sinkhole water contamination

Jonathan Petramala

http://www.wtsp.com/news/local/protests-in-polk-county-over-mosaic-sinkhole-water-contamination/319849651

September 17, 2016

"They say they have it fixed or are working on fixing the problem, but where's the proof," said protester Lee Cole.

"How can we trust them," said protester Heidi Strickland.

A handful of protesters gathered outside of Mulberry City Hall Saturday morning.

Mosaic says it has contained contamination from a sinkhole that opened at one of its Gypsum stacks late last month.

But several people who live nearby and depend entirely upon the aquifer for their water supply are skeptical.

It's not the first time a sinkhole has threatened their neighborhood.

Mosaic says it has strong pumps all around the property at its New Wales plant pulling that now-contaminated water up out of the ground and storing it. Keeping it from spreading.

You'd think for a guy like Rob Bentley that would be a huge relief. But it's not.

“I'm a little more concerned now, what did they say? Radioactivity possibly? Slightly? Yeah - I'm concerned.” said Bentley.

In 1994, another massive sinkhole at the New Wales plant threatened the drinking supply there. In 1997 and 2004, acid spills made it to local rivers. Again, people in Pine Dale were told there was no problem.

Mosaic says so far tests show they've been able to keep this latest incident contained too.

“We are monitoring extensively to make sure nothing gets past us and certainly nothing will get to the property line,” said David Jellerson, Mosaic’s Senior Environmental Director.

As part of it's response plan, Mosaic says it's making free well-testing available to anyone who lives around the area who may share those concerns.

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