Public Records Raise Questions About State’s Sinkhole Response

November 16, 2016
Press Release

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After making a public records request to the State of Florida for documents about the Polk County sinkhole, and experiencing weeks of delay in receiving a response, Congresswoman Gwen Graham today said that the records which were released raise serious questions about the response of the governor’s office and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to a potential crisis.

“Unless there are records that were not produced as required by law, the disclosures show an alarming lack of communication among state regulators about a threat to the health and safety of Florida families and our environment,” said Graham. “I am very concerned that we had a watchdog agency asleep at the wheel.”

According to the records, before the sinkhole was exposed by the media, nearly all of the electronic communications regarding the incident were email exchanges between the DEP and Mosaic employees. Records from the governor’s office and DEP contained very few internal communications between state employees concerning the sinkhole before it became public. And while there were several emails from the governor’s office about Graham’s questions, there were none demonstrating concern over the sinkhole and DEP’s response or examining potential solutions to the problem.

Equally concerning was the state’s communications with its own scientists, much of which appears to be instructions on how to handle questions from constituents and the press. At least one geologist, who has spent more than 20 years working for the state, raised concerns over the lack of information: “I’m working on that facility with EPA but no one told me about it [the sinkhole]. So much for communication.”

“These public records responses indicate communication has broken down within Governor Scott’s state agencies,” Graham said. “With this kind of threat to Florida families and the environment, the governor’s office and DEP should have been ringing alarm bells and taking swift action. Nothing in these records indicates they were operating with any sense of urgency. Either we are still missing documents, or the state didn’t particularly care. Neither situation is acceptable.”

The records from the governor’s office can be found, here. Emails from DEP can be found, here. Video footage of the sinkhole found in the emails can also be viewed, here.

Every gypstack a potential disaster

Florida Sinkhole Heightens Concerns About Fertilizer Industry

Wall Street Journal on November 13, 2016

“This is a very unfortunate event and one we certainly wouldn’t have wanted to happen to us,” Mosaic Chief Executive Joc O’Rourke said in an interview this month.

The 240-foot-deep hole opened beneath a pile of mining waste at Mosaic’s plant in Mulberry, Fla., about 30 miles east of Tampa, in late August and drained contaminated water into an aquifer that provides drinking water for communities as far north as southern Georgia.

The company in early November said it would spend some $60 million to seal hole with concrete and pump the contaminated water out of the aquifer. Mosaic has also guaranteed Florida $40 million if it fails to take actions like plugging the hole and monitoring nearby drinking-water wells through 2018.

“We take our obligation to our community extremely seriously,” Mr. O’Rourke said. “I have great faith that we will right the issue and ultimately our contribution to society will be much greater than the impacts.”

The phosphate fertilizer that helped nourish the record U.S. corn and soybean harvests this year is made from mining millions of tons of mineral-rich earth. Environmentalists say the wastewater and towering mountains of refuse left behind by the fertilizer-manufacturing process take too big a toll.

At Mosaic’s plant in Mulberry, millions of gallons of acidic water created during fertilizer production spilled into the aquifer, along with unknown quantities of phosphogypsum, a mildly radioactive fertilizer byproduct.

“Phosphate production does enormous damage even when everything goes right,” said Bradley Marshall, an attorney at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental-law group. He said the porous limestone surrounding the local water table car easily allow pollutants to spread.

“The Florida aquifer is like Swiss cheese,” he said.

Mosaic said water in the aquifer moves slowly, allowing the company to retrieve the contaminated water before it flows off its property.

Mosaic has had trouble with mining waste before. Last year, the company struck a deal worth more than $800 million with regulators to clean up hazardous waste from its operations in Louisiana and Florida.

In September, residents near Mosaic’s Mulberry sinkhole sued to hold the company responsible for potential drinking-well contamination. Days later, Governor Rick Scott ordered Florida’s environmental protection department to issue an emergency rule requiring businesses and local governments to inform the public and the department within 24 hours of a pollution incident.

Samples from more than 900 private wells nearby show no effects from the spill, the state environment department said.

The Mosaic facility processes phosphate rock from a swath of central Florida known as Bone Valley for its fossil beds that harbor the mineral. Florida supplies roughly 70% of the phosphate rock for U.S. fertilizers. Manufacturing fertilizer leaves behind mounds of refuse called phosphogypsum stacks—or gyp stacks—which pockmark the landscape. Collectively, they cover thousands of acres and each can reach 500 feet high.

“Each is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Beverly Griffiths, chairwoman of Sierra Club Florida’s phosphate committee. The Sierra Club implored the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to freeze new mining permits until the industry’s effects are better understood.

A sinkhole opened in 1994 under the same gyp stack in Mulberry, then owned by IMC Global Inc. Mosaic said the sinkhole was repaired at the time and that no other work was needed once they took over the facility. Mosaic said contamination didn’t escape the property then, either.

Another Florida fertilizer maker, Mulberry Corp., filed for bankruptcy and abandoned a plant in 2001, leaving officials to pump wastewater onto a barge and dump it in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2009, another sinkhole emptied more than 90 million gallons of hazardous wastewater into the Florida aquifer, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

Environmentalists said the latest breach validates their warnings about phosphate mining’s dangers. Some want more regulation. Some want to stop fertilizer production completely.

Brian Birky, executive director at the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute, said the U.S. can’t do without the fertilizer mined there. Over the past half-century, the U.S. has seen an increase in the use of phosphate-based fertilizer as well as high-tech seeds and equipment, pushing crop yields ever higher.

Mosaic’s Mr. O’Rourke said consumers benefit from the low food prices those yields make possible. He said U.S.-made fertilizer will be necessary to produce the calories to feed a booming global population.

“If you want to feed eight to nine billion people, you have to do it using mined and manufactured fertilizers,” he said. He expects phosphate mining in Florida to continue for at least 40 more years.

“The idea of 40 more years of mining in central Florida is revolting,” said Jacki Lopez, staff attorney and director of the Center for Biological Diversity in Florida.

“It’s radioactive waste,” Ms. Lopez said. “Where does all that go?”

Write to Jesse Newman at jesse.newman@wsj.com

High Radiation Levels alarm Mulberry citizens

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Some residents who live near the massive sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales Plant are worried about their well water.

Recent test results show they should be concerned because of high levels of radioactive material. What is not clear is whether the Mosaic sinkhole, which dropped 215 million gallons of radioactive water into the Florida aquifer, has anything to do with it.

Mosaic – and some experts – say it’s possible the radioactivity was already present in some of these wells. They said it could have been caused by by “natural geologic processes.” Testing so far, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, show the contaminated water has been captured exactly the way it should be.

A DEP spokeswoman sent 8 On Your Side an email that said test results do not show that contaminants from the New Wales plant are showing up in the well water. There are certain characteristics from the New Wales water that are not showing up in the well water, leading the state to conclude the harmful materials in the water are unrelated to the sinkhole. The state official wrote:

“The ongoing monitoring onsite at the New Wales facility continues to show no movement of process water away from the sinkhole location. Process water is only being detected in the recovery well samples to date, which indicates that the recovery well is working as expected and capturing process water. In this geographic region of Florida, levels of gross alpha that are above the drinking water standard are often associated with natural geologic processes. In other cases, they may be related to the construction of the water well itself. ”

But resident Jennifer Psait isn’t sure she’s buying that. She points to a delay in Mosaic notifying residents about the problems.

One of two wells on Bob Glaze’s property has so much radium in the brown water that he shut it off – out of fear. Psait is Glaze’s next-door tenant. She shares his two wells. Psait is worried about her three children who, until recently, drank and bathed in the water

“I’m not a chemist, or a chemistry student,” she said. “I think that’s pretty bad.”

Water tests show radium levels of 52.01 picocuries per liter – that’s more than five times the acceptable standard. Psait is concerned about the lack of information from Mosaic officials. And she’s leery of what they do tell her, since the company wasn’t forthcoming, at first, when the sinkhole opened in late August.

“The thing I really don’t respect about them is that they knew that had happened, even when they had coordinated with the legislature and they didn’t report it to the public. They only reported it when it started getting leaked,” Psait said.

The Mosaic sinkhole dropped more than 215 million gallons of radioactive water into the Florida aquifer. The company has tested 763 nearby wells and say 10 show water that’s not safe to drink. But the company takes no responsibility for this, saying the radioactive materials are just a coincidence.

DEP officials say they are trying to contact all of the residents with wells that showed contaminated water and will assist those residents in determining how to fix their water issues. In the meantime, Mosaic continues to deliver drinking water to residents who request it.

Testing shows radioactive material in wells; state says material is unrelated to Mosaic sinkhole

MOSAIC SPILL: AQUIFERS 101

Bradenton Times
John Rehill
Friday, Sep 23, 2016

Mosaic officials claim that 215 million gallons of contaminated water was sucked down into the Floridan aquifer system through a massive sinkhole underneath their phosphogypsum stack at the company’s New Wales fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Florida. A closer look at both the evidence and Mosaic’s history suggest this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

David Jellerson, senior director for environmental and phosphate projects at Mosaic, says he is confident no contaminants will migrate offsite. He claims Mosaic’s monitoring wells will capture the fugitive chemical mixture and that there is “no risk to the public.”

Mosaic officials first reported the breach to the public three weeks after they claim two workers—said to be monitoring the fluid levels in the stack—noticed the drop, indicating a problem. It was then, the company claims, that pumps were installed to retrieve the remaining fluid in the stack in search of the calamity’s origin.

Read more http://thebradentontimes.com/mosaic-spill-aquifers-p16872-137.htm#.V-rTbmvgny8.facebook

Mosaic apologizes over contaminated water dumped into aquifer

BARTOW — Mosaic Co. officials apologized Tuesday morning for failing to inform the public in a timely manner that contaminated water from its plant had been dumped into the Floridan Aquifer.

“We deeply regret we didn’t come forward sooner,” said Walt Precourt, senior vice president of phosphate for the company. “Any explanation about why we didn’t (come forward) would ring hollow.”
The leak occurred after a 45-foot wide, 300-foot deep sinkhole opened under a gypsum stack at its plant in Mulberry.

To read more, click here:  Full Article Here

Posted Sep 20, 2016 at 2:46 PM

By John Chambliss GateHouse Florida

Massive sinkhole drains contaminated water into Floridan aquifer

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A massive sinkhole on top of a Mosaic gypsum stack near Mulberry allowed   millions of gallons of contaminated water to flow into the Floridan Aquifer.

Eagle 8 flew over the huge chasm in the earth and spotted a cascading waterfall in the middle of what looks like a moonscape. The is happening in the New Wales plant off Highway 640, south of Mulberry.

The sinkhole opened up almost three weeks ago. Since then, about 215 million gallons of contaminated water have drained into the aquifer. The sinkhole is about 40 feet across. It’s depth is unknown.

It sits right in the middle of a massive gypsum stack. Gypsum comes out of the plant after the company produces phosphate fertilizers and animal feed ingredients.

On Aug. 27 workers monitoring water levels discovered a drop. “When it was first noticed, we installed pumping systems to move water out of that compartment on the gypsum stack, to recover the water,” said David Jellerson, Mosaic’s director of environment and phosphate projects.

The water is contaminated with phosphoric acid and is slightly radioactive. Not all of it is being caught by pumps.

You wouldn’t want to drink it, but so far, Mosaic engineers don’t believe the water is making it to private wells.

Read more http://wfla.com/2016/09/15/contaminated-water-flows-into-floridan-aquifer-after-sinkhole-opens-at-mosaic-facility/

EPA and toxic waste

Stuart Cooper Flouride Action Network October 7, 2015

The company that gets rid of highly toxic wastes by selling them as a “product” to municipal water departments across the country as cheap fluoridation chemicals has been fined $2 billion for gross violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), reports the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).

Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC, is one of the largest sellers of a toxic fluoride chemical, “fluorosilicic acid”, that cities add to public drinking water. Fluorosilicic acid is described by EPA in the Consent Decrees as a “hazardous waste” produced at Mosaic’s fertilizer plants. More than 200 million Americans drink these wastes every day.

For decades Mosaic has been selling fluoridation chemicals to public drinking water systems across the U.S. This Kafkaesque scheme, approved by EPA, benefits the polluter in the belief that it helps the teeth of the poor, according to FAN. The fine was levied on October 1st by the EPA and U.S. Department of Justice. These wastes are produced at Mosaic’s six phosphate fertilizer plants in Florida and two in Louisiana.

“It’s outrageous that Mosaic is allowed to sell an EPA ‘hazardous waste’ to dump into the drinking water used in most major U.S. cities,” says FAN scientist Dr. Neil Carman. Dr. William Hirzy, also with FAN, added, “This loophole needs to be closed by the EPA. It was not addressed in the Consent Decrees which allow Mosaic to continue selling a hazardous waste to the public disguised as a way to boost fluoride in drinking water.”

The RCRA laws govern the storage, treatment, and disposal of hazardous waste. Mosaic’s 60 billion pounds of improperly handled hazardous waste cited by EPA is the largest amount ever covered by an RCRA settlement. Mosaic’s wastes have also caused huge local environmental problems, due largely to their high fluoride levels. The fluoride, not captured in pollution control devices and sold for water fluoridation, ends up in their liquid and solid wastes. Other toxic constituents include arsenic, lead, cadmium, uranium, and radium. Enormous quantities of these wastes have been stored for years in so-called gypsum stacks. They will never become non-toxic, and these open hazardous waste piles have regularly leaked into rivers and groundwater causing huge fish kills and other problems.

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For an overview of the phosphate fertilizer industry see http://fluoridealert.org/articles/phosphat

Mosaic slapped with $2 Billion clean up settlement Oct. 2015

Phosphate giant Mosaic agrees to pay nearly $2 billion over mishandling of hazardous waste

· Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2015 12:53pm

Mosaic Fertilizer, the world’s largest phosphate mining company, has agreed to pay nearly $2 billion to settle a federal lawsuit over hazardous waste and to clean up its operations at six Florida sites and two in Louisiana, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.
“The 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste addressed in this case is the largest amount ever covered by a federal or state … settlement and will ensure that wastewater at Mosaic’s facilities is properly managed and does not pose a threat to groundwater resources,” the EPA said.
The EPA had accused Mosaic of improper storage and disposal of waste from the production of phosphoric and sulfuric acids, key components of fertilizers, at Mosaic’s facilities in Bartow, New Wales, Mulberry, Riverview, South Pierce and Green Bay in Florida, as well as two sites in Louisiana.
The EPA said it had discovered Mosaic employees were mixing highly-corrosive substances from its fertilizer operations with the solid waste and wastewater from mineral processing, in violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws.
“This case is a major victory for clean water, public health and communities across Florida and Louisiana,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
Mosaic CEO Joc O’Rourke said the company is “pleased to be bringing this matter to a close” and pledging to be a good environmental steward. The Minnesota-based company was formed in 2004 by a merger of IMC Global with the crop nutrition division of Cargill.
Mosaic officials in Florida said the EPA investigation and negotiations for a settlement have been going on for eight years, and what they were doing was something everyone in the phosphate industry was doing as well.
The settlement with the EPA, the Justice Department, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will have no impact on Mosaic’s continued employment or on its future mining expansion plans in DeSoto, Hardee and Manatee counties, they said.
First discovered by an Army Corps of Engineers captain in 1881, Florida’s phosphate deposits today form the basis of an $85-billion industry that supplies three-fourths of the phosphate used in the United States. Although phosphate mining provides a major financial boon to the small communities in which the mines are located, it also leaves behind a major environmental mess.
The miners use a dragline with a bucket the size of a truck to scoop up the top 30 feet of earth and dump it to the side of the mine. Then the dragline scoops out the underlying section of earth, which contains phosphate rocks mixed with clay and sand.
The bucket dumps this in a pit where high-pressure water guns create a slurry that can then be pumped to a plant up to 10 miles away.
At the plant, the phosphate is separated from the sand and clay. The clay slurry is pumped to a settling pond, and the phosphate is sent to a chemical processing plant where it is processed for use in fertilizer and other products. The sand is sent back to the mine site to fill in the hole after all the phosphate is dug out.
A byproduct, called phosphogypsum, is slightly radioactive so it cannot be disposed of easily. The only thing the miners can do with it is stack it into mountainous piles next to the plant. Florida is such a flat state that the 150-foot-tall “gyp stacks” are usually the highest point in the landscape for miles around. They contain large pools of highly acidic wastewater on top, too.
“Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector,” Giles said. “Reducing environmental impacts from large fertilizer manufacturers operations is a national priority for EPA.”
Mosaic’s production of pollution is so great that in 2012, the Southwest Florida Water Management District granted the company a permit to pump up to 70 million gallons of water a day out of the ground for the next 20 years. Mosaic is using some of that water to dilute the pollution it dumps into area creeks and streams so it won’t violate state regulations.
The EPA investigation was prompted by a 2003 incident in which the Piney Point phosphate plant, near the southern end of the Sunshine Skyway, leaked some of waste from atop its gyp stack into the edge of Tampa Bay after its owners walked away.
That prompted EPA to launch a national review of phosphate mining facilities, said EPA spokeswoman Julia Valentine. That’s how inspectors found workers were mixing the corrosive substances from the fertilizer operations with the phosphogypsum and wastewater from the mineral processing, she said.
That mixing was something everyone in the industry did, according to Richard Ghent of Mosaic’s Florida operations. The EPA said that violated both state and federal law and put groundwater at risk. It has previously gotten settlements from two other companies, one of which, CF Industries, has since been taken over by Mosaic.
Despite the mishandling of the waste, Debra Waters, Mosaic’s director of environmental regulatory affairs in Florida, said the company has seen no change in the area’s groundwater as a result, which EPA officials said was correct.
The fact that the negotiations have been going on for so many years, she said, “should indicate that there’s no imminent threat.”
The company will invest at least $170 million at its fertilizer manufacturing facilities to keep those substances separate from now on. Mosaic will also put money aside for the safe future closure of the gypsum stacks using a $630 million trust fund it is creating under the settlement. That money will be invested until it reaches $1.8 billion, which will pay for the closures.
The South Pierce and Green Bay plants, both in Polk County, are already in the process of shutting down, with the closure of the gyp stacks already underway, Waters said.
Mosaic will also pay a $5 million civil penalty to the federal government, a $1.55 million penalty to the State of Louisiana and $1.45 million to Florida, and it will be required to spend $2.2 million on local environmental projects to make up for what it has done.
Mosaic, which runs television ads touting its importance in growing crops to feed the world, has previously run afoul of the EPA on its air pollution standards. However, last year company was rated one of the top 50 employers in America based on salary and job satisfaction. Mosaic employs about 1,200 people in Hillsborough County alone.

Fertilizer company negotiating possible Florida settlement costing more than $775 million

Matt Dixon, Naples News

5:04 PM, Dec 18, 2014

Federal and state environmental officials are negotiating in hopes of reaching a settlement with Mosaic, among the world’s largest fertilizer companies, over whether it “mishandled hazardous waste” at some of its Florida facilities.

The issue could ultimately cost the company hundreds-of-millions of dollars in facility upgrades and trust fund payments, in addition to a possible penalty of more than $1 million, according to state records and regulatory filings.

It’s part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s crackdown on hazardous waste created by the mineral processing industry.

“The negotiations involving Mosaic are complex and ongoing,” said company spokesman Richard Ghent. “We are negotiating in good faith and we look forward to a successful resolution of the matter.”

Phosphate Ore is the mineral that companies mine and process when producing fertilizer. The toxic byproduct created by the process is stored in up to 200-foot tall piles known as “gypstacks,” which are called “mountains off hazardous waste” by some environmental groups.

“They can sometimes overflow and spill their toxic waste after strong storms or prolonged rain events,” the Sierra Club Florida wrote in a brochure about gypstacks.

The first settlement related to the EPA’s efforts was in 2010 between C.F. Industries, which operated a Plant City fertilizer plant, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Under the settlement, the company agreed to spend $12 million to reduce the release of hazardous waste, and pay a $700,000 fine. In 2013, Mosaic spent $1.2 billion to buy CF Industry’s Central Florida-based phosphate business, which produce 1.8 million tons of phosphate fertilizer annually.