Gwen Graham: FDEP at fault for not telling public about Mosaic spill

Published Sept. 21, 2016

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, has slammed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for failing to notify the public about the leak of contaminated waste water into a huge sinkhole at Mosaic's New Wales phosphate processing plant in Mulberry.

The 45-foot wide sinkhole was discovered on Aug. 27 and the DEP was notified one day later. Some 215 million gallons of acidic water laced with sulphur and sodium drained into the hole and is believed to have drained into the Floridan Aquifer, the source of drinking water for much of Florida.

But it was only after the sinkhole was reported in the media three weeks later that the DEP acknowledged the spill and announced that it would coordinate with Mosaic for the testing of wells on neighboring properties.

DEP officials said Florida law doesn't require the state or the company involved to notify anyone until there's some sign the pollution has migrated outside the property where it went into the aquifer.

They said the department has gone "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."

In a letter to DEP Secretary Jonathan Steverson sent Wednesday, Graham, who is considering a run for governor in 2018, said she was extremely disappointed with that response.

"Their excuse for inaction – that they weren't legally required to do so – is appalling," she wrote. "It's an excuse we should expect from a special interest group – not from a group whose only interest should be protecting Florida's environment and citizens."

Graham is also calling on the agency to use all means available to protect Florida families and the environment from a potential health crisis.

"The DEP should warn Florida families of potential contamination before they're drinking toxic water, not after it's been contaminated," she said.

In a response to Graham, Gov. Rick Scott's Communications Director Jackie Schutz said the governor has directed the DEP to expedite their investigation of the spill and asked the Florida Department of Health to work with DEP to ensure drinking water is safe.

"We will continue to expedite this process untill all questions are answered," Schutz said in a statement. "We encourage lawmakers and others to make decisions on this issue based on facts and not on their own political interests,"

Mosaic workers became aware of the sinkhole when water levels in a pond atop a 120-foot gypsum stack dropped 2 feet between readings on Aug. 27. They began diverting water from the pond, which can hold up to about 250 million gallons.

The company is using a recovery well to pump water back to the surface in an effort to contain the spill.It says that testing on its 1,600 acre plant shows the spill has not spread off site.

At least 70 nearby propery owners have contacted Mosaic to request testing of their wells.