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Sinkhole releases over 200 million gallons of toxic waste into Florida's drinking water

Published: September 19, 2016
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Source: BBC

A sinkhole in Florida caused around 980 million liters, or about 258 million gallons, of contaminated water from a fertilizer plant to leak into an aquifer that officials say is a primary drinking water source. The contaminated water contains "slightly radioactive" phosphogypsum, a by-product of the process to make phosphate fertilizer. While the company that owns the plant, Mosaic, says the situation is not dangerous for the public, others say phosphate mining threatens Florida's environment.

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On August 27, a Mosaic worker found the sinkhole after water level monitoring revealed a decline in water levels in a stack where the company was storing wastewater. According to Mosaic, they began pumping water out of the stack into different storage areas. The sinkhole, which is about 45 feet in diameter, allowed the wastewater to leak into an aquifer. According to Mosaic, the sinkhole likely "damaged the liner system at the base of the stack."

Mosaic said they reported the water level decline to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Polk County, where the plant is located. They said the leak will likely not cause harm to the public, as groundwater moves slowly.

Others think Mosaic's phosphate mining should stop. The Center for Biological Diversity's Florida director Jaclyn Lopez said, "Enough is enough. Florida must finally take a stand against this destructive, radioactive phosphate mining that is putting our health and environment at risk. Mosaic wants to mine an additional 50,000 acres of Florida's beautiful, biodiverse lands, but this incident makes clear it can't even handle the radioactive waste it currently generates."

FDEP spokesperson Dee Ann Miller said monitoring shows "process water is being successfully contained," but that monitoring will persist. Mosaic posted a phone number on their website for concerned community members to call with questions or to obtain "free drinking water well testing."

 

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