Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Environment

Polluted water is seeping at Mosaic site

Problem at Bartow plant began in October, but public was given no notice.
A sinkhole opened up beneath a phosphogypsum stack at Mosaic's Mulberry plant in 2016, draining 215 million gallons of waste into the aquifer below. Neither the company nor the state Department of Environmental Protection notified the public until a television report revealed what happened. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times (2016)]
A sinkhole opened up beneath a phosphogypsum stack at Mosaic's Mulberry plant in 2016, draining 215 million gallons of waste into the aquifer below. Neither the company nor the state Department of Environmental Protection notified the public until a television report revealed what happened. [JIM DAMASKE | Times (2016)]
Published Nov. 19, 2019

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection launched an investigation last month into a “seepage” problem at one of phosphate giant Mosaic’s massive phosphogypsum stacks.

But neither the company nor the agency alerted the public about the problem.

State investigators showed up at Mosaic’s Bartow plant on Oct. 23, the day the problem was reported by Mosaic, agency spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said Tuesday. They have returned the plant three more times so far, she said.

“At this time, inspections and data submitted indicate that the seepage is contained onsite and has not impacted water resources,” Miller said in an email to the Times. “There are NO signs of any failure of the geology underlying the gyp stack system.”

The stacks are piles of slightly radioactive waste material left over from processing the phosphate for fertilizer. They rise up to 200 feet high and often cover hundreds of acres. On top of each one is a large pond of acidic water.

A Mosaic spokeswoman, Jackie Barron, echoed that statement Tuesday. “The gyp stack structure itself remains structurally unaffected by the seepage outbreak at this time.”

This investigation comes three years after a sinkhole opened beneath a Mosaic gyp stack at its Mulberry plant, draining 215 million gallons of wastewater from a pond on the top of the stack into the aquifer beneath. Filling that hole took Mosaic two years.

PRIOR COVERAGE: As polluted water disappeared, Mosaic avoided using “s-word.”

The public was not notified about the 2016 sinkhole by either the company or the agency until, three weeks later, a television report exposed the problem. Then-Gov. Rick Scott said that was wrong, and persuaded legislators to change the law to require prompt public reporting of such pollution incidents.

PRIOR COVERAGE: After three-week delay, Gov. Scott calls for faster notice.

To environmental groups, this incident at the Bartow plant is a repeat of the 2016 event, which occurred 15 miles away at a plant on the Hillsborough-Polk county line.

“Once again, Mosaic and the FDEP kept this breach under wraps for more than three weeks despite requirements that such events must be reported immediately, imposed by the former governor,” environmental activist Dennis Mader of People for Protecting Peace River wrote in an email.

But Miller said this incident did not meet the law’s requirements for public notice because the water flow didn’t get far enough.

“The owner or operator would be required to submit a notice if a release impacted waters of the state or migrated offsite," she explained. Instead, she said, this flow has been contained above ground within the area of the gyp stack.

And Barron emphasized that the seepage is occurring above-ground, not into the aquifer.

The discovery of the seeping water happened during a routine inspection, company officials said. On Oct. 23, a field inspector driving the area noted water seeping out from the southwest corner of the active gyp stack. The flow of water continued to a nearby on-site swale, they said.

The company scrambled to contain the flowing water, according to the report Mosaic filed with the state on the first day. Workers installed a pump to collect what had seeped out and return it to the stack’s water management system. They also built an earthen dam to prevent it from migrating off the company’s site.

A possible source of the water is the 55-acre pond atop the stack, which Barron said holds about 164 million gallons of polluted water. But Barron said the company is still trying to determine the source. A nearby holding pond is another possibility, she said.

She and Miller both said the investigation is focusing on the possibility that the high density polyethylene lining that’s supposed to contain the ponded wastewater has torn. The stack was originally built before state law required a lining, but one was added a decade ago and a new stack built atop that one, Barron said.

Barron emphasized that the term for what’s happening is “seepage,” not “leak.”

“Seepage meaning the water is moving through a porous surface versus leaking out some kind of opening,” she said.

Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Flooding from an October king tide in Miami Shores fills streets, sidewalks and driveways at its peak. [Miami Herald]
    And it could lose up to 35 percent of its value by 2050, according to a new report.
  2. Two babirusa pigs are shown at Lowry Park Zoo in this photo from 1995. A Tampa Bay couple is accused of distributing remnants from exotic animal species, including a babirusa skill. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Novita Indah and Larry Malugin sold more than 3,000 items made from the animals over a period of more than five years, federal officials said.
  3. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,, center, speaks as fellow candidates businessman Tom Steyer, from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. listen, Tuesday during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
    The candidates’ proposals reveal differences in how they plan to approach the issue.
  4. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dumps new sand from Central Florida along the Miami Beach shoreline near 65th Collins Avenue on Monday. [MATIAS J. OCNER  |  Miami Herald]
    The idea is to build a buffer between the condos and the rising seas.
  5. Draped against the St. Petersburg skyline on Tuesday evening on January 14, 2020, the Bella Vita is visible as it docks in Port St. Pete. The yacht is nearly 250 feet long and costs about $650,000 to charter for a week in the winter, according to broker Moran Yacht and Ship. It can accommodate 12 passengers between its six staterooms and six decks, and a staff of 22. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
    Meet the Bella Vita, a yacht almost too luxurious to believe.
  6. A 350-pound Warsaw grouper was caught off the southwest coast of Florida late last month, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. [Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission]
    Biologists from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Age & Growth Lab estimate the age of the fish at 50 years old.
  7. A family rides their motorcycle through clouds of ash as they evacuate to safer grounds as Taal volcano in Tagaytay, Cavite province, southern Philippines on Monday. Red-hot lava is gushing from the volcano after a sudden eruption of ash and steam that forced residents to flee and shut down Manila’s airport, offices and schools. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) [AARON FAVILA  |  AP]
    Clouds of ash from forced the shutdown of the Philippines’ main airport, with more than 500 flights canceled.
  8. Store owners and family help remove supplies from a hardware store that partially collapsed after an earthquake struck Guanica, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday. [CARLOS GIUSTI  |  AP]
    Money is being accepted through a Wesley Chapel restaurant and a GoFundMe page by Somos Puerto Rico Tampa and the Course of Action Foundation.
  9. In this Thursday, photo, John Mash, right, a fire operations supervisor for the Ministry of Natural Resources in Ontario, Canada, works in the situation room at the Rural Fire Service office in Moruya, Australia. The U.S., Canada and New Zealand have sent hundreds of firefighters to Australia to help local crews battle its deadly wildfires. The firefighters have come as part of a reciprocal deal which has previously seen Australians posted in North America. Many of the firefighters have specialized skills such as managing air operations or logistics. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) [RICK RYCROFT  |  AP]
    More than 250 firefighters from the U.S. and nearly 100 from Canada have arrived or will soon help to battle the fires that have killed at least 26 people.
  10. The U.S. Mint revealed its latest design of its America the Beautiful Quarter program featuring the Samoan fruit bat in honor of the National Park of American Samoa. [U.S. Mint] [U.S. Mint]
    The U.S. Mint has revealed the newest designs for its annual America the Beautiful Quarters program, and you’ll see bats on the back of the coin as early as February 3.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement