Crack in Mosaic gypsum stack not leaking, company and state officials say

EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times The exterior of the Mosaic office in Lithia on March 25, 2014.
EVE EDELHEIT | Times The exterior of the Mosaic office in Lithia on March 25, 2014.
Published Dec. 20, 2018

Mosaic, the phosphate mining giant, reported to state and federal officials last week that a crack has opened up along the wall of one of its gypsum stacks in Bartow.

The crack is six inches wide and about 100 feet long, according to a letter Mosaic sent to officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

A spokeswoman for the state agency, Lauren Engel, said an inspector has determined that the crack was only on the surface of the stack and "posed no gypsum stack integrity or environmental concerns … and has resulted in no release of process water."

Mosaic spokeswoman Jackie Barron said the crack formed as a result of the normal phosphate processing, The gypsum is a waste material, and as it's piled up on the stack it dries and contracts, she said. While it's settling, "cracks can form and are not uncommon."

Barron said the company is "working on a repair plan to clean out the loose material and fill the crack." However the company, which is moving its headquarters from Minnesota to Tampa, has set no timeline for that work yet.

Mosaic's actions are under scrutiny because of a 2015 settlement with the federal government over the mishandling of waste at six Florida sites (including the Bartow plant) and two in Louisiana. The case involved 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste, which federal officials said was the largest amount ever covered by such a settlement.

Then, in 2016, a massive sinkhole opened up under a gyp stack at its Mulberry facility and gulped down 215 million gallons of contaminated water. The company waited 19 days to notify the public that the aquifer might be tainted, spurring anger in the community and from Gov. Rick Scott, who pushed through a law requiring public notice of such pollution events.

Filling in the hole took the company two years and $84 million, and so far company officials say there has been no sign that the contamination spread beyond Mosaic's own property boundaries.

Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.