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Mosaic officials apologize for not telling public about massive leak

Published Sep. 21, 2016

BARTOW — Mosaic officials apologized Tuesday morning for failing to inform the public in a timely manner that contaminated water from its plant had been dumped into the Floridan Aquifer.

"We deeply regret we didn't come forward sooner," said Walt Precourt, senior vice president of phosphate for the company. "Any explanation about why we didn't (come forward) would ring hollow."

The leak occurred after a 45-foot-wide, 300-foot-deep sinkhole opened under a gypsum stack at its plant in Mulberry.

Precourt and Herschel Morris, vice president of phosphate operations, addressed Polk County commissioners during a meeting, then spoke with members of the media.

Morris recounted the situation that occurred Aug. 27 and Aug. 28 when the company notified three government agencies — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Polk County — after learning about the leak.

Those agencies also declined to notify the public.

Polk County Manager Jim Freeman said the DEP has jurisdiction, but acknowledged the situation could have been handled better.

"If the public feels like it wasn't timely, we need to do a better job in the future," Freeman said.

County Commissioner Melony Bell agreed.

She said the email notification county officials received in August from the company didn't seem serious.

The company should have issued a news release, but the county also should have taken a more proactive role, Bell said.

"They are our constituents," Bell said.

Meanwhile, a Mosaic executive said Tuesday that the leak of contaminated water will cost the company $20 million to $50 million to fix.

"It's an unfortunate incident, but something that is going to be well contained … in the months ahead," Mosaic chief financial officer Rich Mack said at an investor conference in Toronto.

BCMI Research analyst Chris Damas said he sold his Mosaic shares after the incident became public.

"I am very upset with Mosaic that it took media coverage rather than a Mosaic press release to disclose" it, he said in a note on Monday.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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