8 INVESTIGATES: State kept Hillsborough in dark about Mosaic sinkhole contamination


HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — When a hole swallowed 215 million gallons of radioactive water at Mosaic’s New Wales fertilizer plant in Mulberry in August, it dumped that water into the aquifer.

According to all accounts, the tainted plume is moving west toward Hillsborough County. Hillsborough residents, including James Maxwell, of Lithia, are on edge. “I’m scared to death,” Maxwell said.

In addition to keeping neighbors in the dark, 8 On Your Side has learned Mosaic waited until the eleventh hour to bring this disaster to the attention of Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White, whose district borders Polk County.

Sam Elrabi, Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission
Sam Elrabi, Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission

“I was briefed by a Mosaic official literally the evening that the news broke,” White told county commissioners at a board meeting.

Even the agency that helps guard Hillsborough County’s environment was kept in the dark. “We did not hear from Mosaic. We heard this from the news like everybody else, I think on Thursday evening,” said Sam Elrabi, water division director for Hillsborough County’s Environmental Protection Commission.

What’s even more shocking, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection sat on the information as well. “Well, we were not notified by DEP. We reached out to them when we heard the news,” Elrabi said.

Deputy secretary Gary Clark laughed it off when we confronted him in Tallahasse about the department’s information blackout. “It’s out of my wheelhouse, he-he,” chuckled Clark.

When asked if the department should have done more to inform the public, Clark continued chuckling.

What’s not so funny is the contaminated water that escaped into the aquifer contains radium, elevated levels of sodium and it’s acidic. “So it’s nasty processed water, and that’s why you don’t discharge something like this to the environment,” Elrabi explained.

Florida congresswoman Gwen Graham criticized the DEP’s excuse for not informing the public. The excuse was the department “wasn’t legally required to do so.” Graham called that appalling.

“That’s an excuse from a special interest group, not a group whose only interest should be protecting Florida’s environment and citizens,” Graham said.

Governor Rick Scott ordered the department to expedite its investigation and water quality tests to ensure safe drinking water. He also directed the Department of Health to make sure all drinking water in the area is safe.

Mosaic is working to recover the contaminated water.

Elrabi said that if you detect a smell, taste or color in your water, don’t drink it. Get it tested. “That being said, I would also stay vigilant and I would also keep looking at the monitoring reports for years and years and years to come,” he said.

If you need your well tested, you can contact Mosaic at (813) 500-6575.

If you have something you need investigated call our 8 On Your side Helpline at 1-(800) 338-0808.



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