POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Polk County officially learned of a sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales fertilizer plant in Mulberry on Sept. 9. Mosaic sent an email to the county explaining a hole had opened beneath a gypsum stack.
Officials say 215 million gallons of radioactive water sitting in a containment pool were swallowed and dumped into the Floridan Aquifer, our source of drinking water. The sinkhole opened Aug. 27. Mosaic notified the Florida Department of Environmental Protection the next day.
Commissioner Melony Bell thinks the county had a moral obligation to inform neighbors of the New Wales plant when it learned of the leak. It didn’t. Commissioner Bell said Polk County does not have staff with expertise to monitor the sinkhole, the leak and water contamination. She says the county is getting much of its information from Mosaic.
“We shouldn’t rely just on Mosaic; DEP needs to be giving us daily updates,” Bell added. “We haven’t heard from anyone.”
Bell is critical of the state’s lack of communication. Mosaic is reporting the contaminant levels of monitoring wells to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
On Tuesday morning Mosaic senior vice president of phosphate, Walt Precourt, expressed regret for sitting on information for 19 days about contamination leaking into the aquifer.
“I deeply regret and apologize that I didn’t come forward and communicate with them sooner,” Precourt told county commissioners. “I do want my focus right now to be on the neighbors and to give them the assurances that we will do everything that we can and we believe that this will be managed on site.”
Precourt has not met with any neighbors but hopes to do so in the coming weeks.
Mosaic assured county commissioners the tainted water has not traveled beyond its property line.
The Department of Environmental Protection has not provided an explanation about why it will not discuss the incident.
The Department of Environmental Protection provided the following statement:
“In an article published today by the Tampa Bay Times, the paper chose to omit the facts regarding the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) actions to notify homeowners following the discovery of a sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales Facility in Polk County. DEP’s priority is always the safety of Floridians and our environment. That’s why DEP has gone above and beyond the requirements of Florida law by working with Mosaic to notify the nearest adjacent homeowners who may want their drinking water wells tested. This information was provided in writing to the Times, but the paper chose to omit this fact and mislead their readers.
Additionally, DEP has been on-site frequently and communicating with Mosaic daily to ensure effective response activities are underway and frequent monitoring continues to ensure the health and safety of nearby Floridians.
Secretary Jon Steverson said, “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is absolutely committed to the safety of all Floridians and our shared environment, which is why we have worked closely with Mosaic since learning of this issue to ensure that proper actions are taken. In an abundance of caution, and above and beyond the requirements of law, DEP is working with Mosaic and through the company’s ongoing efforts to ensure families in the community who want testing for their drinking water wells are offered that service. While there continues to be no evidence of offsite movement or threat to offsite groundwater supplies, DEP will continue to ensure Mosaic’s efforts properly resolve this issue. Once the issues surrounding this sinkhole are resolved, DEP will finalize its ongoing investigation to determine any necessary accountability measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Here are the facts about what DEP is doing to ensure protection of the health and safety of Florida residents:
Notification and Aggressive Sampling by DEP:
Ongoing monitoring of nearby wells continues to indicate that affected water is contained to the impacted site. The nearest private drinking well is around three miles away from the site of the leak, and thus far in DEP’s investigation there is no indication that there is a threat to these wells. Both Mosaic and DEP will continue to perform sampling, and if any indication of offsite migration is seen, affected homeowners will be immediately notified.
Although the affected water is currently contained to the impacted site, DEP, in an abundance of caution, has coordinated with Mosaic to go above and beyond requirements of law and reached out to the nearest adjacent homeowners who may want their drinking water wells tested.
- Mosaic has contracted with an independent, third-party contractor to take the samples, which will be sent to a third-party lab.
- DEP and the Polk County Department of Health will review the sampling results from any municipalities or homeowners who have requested that Mosaic’s contractor test their drinking water.
- In addition, DEP staff will be performing split sampling alongside these contractors.
- Homeowners are being supplied bottled water by Mosaic, if desired, while their test results are pending.
Mosaic continues to perform daily monitoring. Monitoring to date continues to indicate that the affected water is being successfully contained, and that there is no evidence of offsite movement or threat to offsite groundwater supplies. Daily monitoring will continue to ensure there are no offsite or long-term effects.
To ensure an added layer of public health and environmental protection, DEP staff are conducting their own sampling of groundwater monitoring wells on the Mosaic site. When a sample is taken, it will be split, and Mosaic and DEP will each send the sample to separate labs for evaluation.
The department’s focus at this time is on the oversight of Mosaic’s first response efforts in order to safeguard public health and the environment.
DEP staff will continue to make regular site visits to ensure protective response actions are being taken. In addition, DEP and the EPA continue to receive detailed reports from Mosaic on the progress of corrective actions.
DEP will continue to provide the following oversight throughout the investigation:
- Mosaic will continue to operate its two recovery wells to recover the process water.
- Mosaic will design and implement a solution to repair and close the sinkhole.
- DEP and Mosaic will continue to monitor groundwater in the area, which will enable the department to know whether the process water is moving offsite.
- Mosaic’s contractor will test public supply wells and drinking water wells to ensure no impact (at the request of municipalities or homeowners).
Once the initial response phase is complete, we will have a more complete understanding of all circumstances surrounding the event. At that time, we will turn our attention to determining the best next steps in DEP’s enforcement process to ensure accountability and that this type of incident does not happen again.”
READ MORE ABOUT THE MOSAIC SINKHOLE:
- Massive sinkhole drains contaminated water into Floridan aquifer
- 8 INVESTIGATES: Govt. knew about Mosaic sinkhole but did not notify public
- 8 INVESTIGATES: Private wells tested for contamination after sinkhole swallows radioactive water