Florida Fertilizer Plant Sinkhole Reportedly Leaks 215 Million Gallons of Radioactive Water Into Aquifer
By AVIANNE TAN Sep 16, 2016, 4:51 PM ET
A massive sinkhole opened at a Florida fertilizer plant and crews are urgently working to stop the flow of contaminated waste water into an aquifer.
The incident occurred at the Mosaic Company's New Wales plant in Mulberry, Florida, located about 45 minutes east of Tampa.
A massive sinkhole at a fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Florida, has caused about 215 million gallons of radioactive water to drain down into the Floridian aquifer system, according to ABC affiliate WFTS.
The aquifer system supplies drinking water to millions of Florida residents, according to the St. Johns Water Management District's website. Additionally, water that escapes from the aquifers create springs used for recreational activities like snorkeling and swimming.
The fertilizer company Mosaic wrote on its website that it discovered a sinkhole 45 feet in diameter at its New Wales facility after noticing water levels had dropped in a stack of radioactive waste product known as phosphogypsum in late August.
Phosphogypsum is a waste product resulting from the processing of phosphate to make fertilizers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The byproduct is often stored by industrial plants in mountainous piles known as phosphogysum stacks.
"Based on the nature of the water loss and what we've learned so far," the sinkhole damaged the liner system at the base of a phosophogypsum stack, Mosaic said on Thursday. "The pond on top of the cell drained as a result" and "some seepage continues."
The fertilizer company added that it believes the sinkhole reached the Floridian aquifer, and WFTS reported that the company told the station about 215 million gallons of contaminated water used to process fertilizer drained had into the hole.
After learning of the water loss, "Mosaic immediately implemented additional and extensive groundwater monitoring and sampling regimens and has found no offsite impacts," the company said. Additionally, Mosaic "began pumping water out of the west cell" of the affected phosphogypsum stack "into an alternative holding area on site to reduce the amount of drainage."
The company has also "begun the process of recovering the water" drained through the sinkhole "by pumping through onsite production wells," it said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) "confirmed that Mosaic immediately took steps to investigate and initiate corrective action," according to FDEP Deputy Press Secretary Dee Ann Miller.
"As required by their state permit and federal requirements, Mosaic notified both EPA and DEP of a water loss incident at their New Wales facility," Miller told ABC News today. "Mosaic continues to regularly update the department and EPA on progress."
Miller added that along with reviewing daily reports, the FDEP "is performing frequent site visits to make sure timely and appropriate response continues in order to safeguard public health and the environment."
Sinkholes are a type of karst landform and are common across all of Florida. Karst refers to the characteristic terrain produced by erosional processes associated with chemical weathering and dissolution of limestone, one of the most common carbonate rocks in Florida, according to the FDEP.
"The weather and geographic environment in the Florida Peninsula is conducive for sinkholes. The Tampa area averages between 6 and 8 inches of rain each month during the summer," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. Rainfall from June 1 up to the time of discovery of the sinkhole was approximately 24 inches, which is 122 percent of normal."
"While it is impossible to say precisely which rainfall was the trigger for the sinkhole, heavy rainfall events in the Tampa area and the Florida Peninsula in general are common during the summer," Sosnowski said. "This rainfall combined with the limestone bedrock is favorable for the formation of sinkholes."
New Wales Water Loss Incident
This page will provide frequent updates on a sinkhole that formed in one compartment of Mosaic’s active gyp stack in New Wales. Questions may be directed to Callie Neslund at (863) 844-5327.
September 16, 2016 Report
Mosaic is using ground water well P-4 to recover water that was lost as a result of the sinkhole formation. The well, which is 24-inches in diameter and 800 feet deep, is located west of the south gyp stack and is shown in the photo below.
Community members may call 813-500-6575 with questions or concerns or to request free drinking water well testing. Media inquiries should be directed to Public Affairs Manager, Callie Neslund at (863) 844-5327.
September 15, 2016 Report
Mosaic’s phosphogypsum stacks are equipped with a comprehensive monitoring system that provides an early warning of irregular conditions. On Saturday, August 27, 2016, water level monitoring at our New Wales facility in Polk County showed a decline in the water levels for one of the two cells of our active stack, the west cell.
Mosaic reported the water level decline to the relevant government authorities - the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as Polk County.
Based on the nature of this water loss and on what we’ve learned so far, a sinkhole formed under the west cell that we believe damaged the liner system at the base of the stack. The pond on top of the cell drained as a result, although some seepage continues. We estimate that the hole is approximately 45 feet in diameter and believe the sinkhole reaches the Floridan aquifer. Mosaic immediately implemented additional and extensive groundwater monitoring and sampling regimens and has found no offsite impacts.
Additionally, when the water loss was detected, we began pumping water out of the west cell and into an alternative holding area on site to reduce the amount of drainage. At this time we have begun the process of recovering the water by pumping through onsite production wells.
We are working closely with regulators and have been reporting to FDEP daily. We have also called in top experts in the field to advise us on this issue. Enhanced water quality monitoring continues, and we are developing a comprehensive corrective action plan to address and rectify the cause of the water loss.
We continue to operate the New Wales facility and manufacture fertilizer. There has been no interruption in operations as a result of this incident.