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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Gwen Graham wants DEP records about sinkhole spill

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham

Times file photo

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham



Democratic congresswoman Gwen Graham is not letting up in bid to find out why the Florida Department of Environmental Protection did not notify the public sooner about a leak of 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan Aquifer.    

Two days after publicly criticizing the agency’s handling of the spill, Graham, a likely 2018 gubernatorial candidate, announced she has requested that the DEP hand over copies of all electronic communication it sent regarding the 45-foot wide sinkhole that opened beneath a  phosphate gypsum stack at Mosaic's New Wales plant in Mullberry. 

“Our office has repeatedly asked the Department of Environmental Protection when exactly they began to notify the public of the 300-foot-deep toxic sinkhole in Central Florida, and they have not yet answered this simple question,” Graham said in a statement. “I’m hopeful this public records request will show the date on which the department notified the public of the sinkhole and why they made the decision to keep it secret for so long.”

Mosaic officials say they informed the DEP about the spill on Aug. 28, one day after workers noticed a dramatic drop in water levels at a containment pond holding millions of gallons of acidic water that also includes sulfate and sodium.

It was only after the sinkhole was reported in the media last week that the DEP publicly acknowledged the spill and announced it would coordinate with Mosaic, which has agreed to pay for a third-party company to test wells on neighboring properties.

Since then, Mosaic has received 210 requests for well testing from residents concerned about their drinking water.

Gov. Rick Scott defended the agency this week, saying it responded quickly to the crisis.

State law does not require the DEP to inform the public about a spill into the aquifer if it has not spread off-site. DEP officials described their response to the spill as going "above and beyond the requirements of Florida law by working with Mosaic to notify the nearest adjacent homeowners who may want their drinking water wells tested."

On Thursday, a DEP release stated that investigators were not able to confirm a sinkhole as the cause of the drop in water levels until Sept. 7, when it was spotted on an aerial photograph.

In response to Graham, DEP Secretary Jon Steverson said his office has been in communication with Graham and provided information as requested.

"Contrary to the Representative's claim that we have not answered her question, DEP yesterday released a detailed timeline of all the agency's actions including that beginning on Sept. 19, in coordination with Mosaic, DEP began reaching out to nearby homeowners for well testing," Steverson said.    

[Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2016 5:31pm]


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