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Groups say Mosaic's $2B settlement with EPA falls short, call for regional health study

Published Nov. 13, 2015

In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had worked out a settlement with Mosaic Fertilizer, the world's largest phosphate mining company, over hazardous waste pollution. The company would pay nearly $2 billion to settle the suit and clean up operations at six Florida sites and two in Louisiana, the EPA said.

That's not good enough, according to a coalition of environmental groups.

The settlement, which has yet to be approved by a federal judge, deals only with Mosaic's regulatory violations, according to Andre Mele of the Sarasota-based Suncoast Waterkeeper group. It does nothing to help the people living near the company's mines who might be suffering health ailments, he said.

"They've shown a smoking gun from the regulatory perspective, but nobody bothered to identify the victim," Mele said Thursday.

So his group and others, including the Center for Biological Diversity and other waterkeeper chapters, are demanding the EPA also require Mosaic to pay between $30 million to $50 million for a regional health survey.

They also want the EPA to require Mosaic to open the files on its own employees and former employees to see whether any of them have suffered pollution-related illnesses.

The EPA announced the settlement with Mosaic on Oct. 1, but is seeking public comment on it until Dec. 7. An EPA spokeswoman called the settlement "the most significant enforcement action in the mining and mineral processing arena" in the United States.

A Mosaic spokesman said the company was unaware of the objections of the Waterkeeper and other groups, and thus was unable to comment.

The settlement came after the EPA 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 solid waste and wastewater from mineral processing, in violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws.

Mosaic officials said the EPA investigation and negotiations for a settlement lasted for eight years, and contended their company's practices followed the same routine as everyone else in the phosphate industry.

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 bridge, leaked some of waste from atop its gyp stack into the edge of Tampa Bay after its owners walked away.

That prompted the EPA to launch a national review of phosphate mining facilities.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

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