A massive sinkhole opened in Florida, spilling approximately 250 million gallons of radioactive water into an Aquifer at the New Wales Fertilizer site. The Mosaic Fertilizer plant noticed the hazardous issue when water levels at their processing plant began to recede. The sinkhole developed on August 27th, however, the Mosaic Fertilizer plant did not notify the Environmental Protection Agency for nearly three weeks.
The sinkhole is located approximately 45 minutes from Tampa, Florida, according to Accuweather. Measurements of the massive hole reveal that it is at least 45 feet in diameter. However, the actual depth of the sinkhole is unknown at this time.
Water that has been draining into the sinkhole, visually similar to a waterfall, is contaminated with Phosphogympsum, a radioactive byproduct created from the production of fertilizer at the plant. Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity is concerned that the threat of radioactive contamination was not shared with the public in a timely manner, potentially exposing residents that receive water from the aquifer to harmful radiation in their water. Radioactive components may include radium, radon gas, and even Uranium.
Mosaic Fertilizer states that the sinkhole occurred in a location where they store the Phosphogympsum stacks, a common practice in the industry. A nearby retention pond was also impacted, mixing the radioactive material into the water that seeped into the aquifer, according to ABC News.
“The pond on top of the cell drained as a result” and “some seepage continues.”
At this time, Mosaic Fertilizer claims that there has been no sign of off site impact and that action was taken immediately to combat the issue.
“[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.”
— ABC News (@ABC) September 17, 2016
The Department of Environmental Protection in Florida surveyed the site and verifies that Mosaic Fertilizer took all necessary steps to initiate the corrective action in a timely manner. Mosaic Fertilizer has been keeping the EPA up to date on the progress, according to Dee Ann Miller, FDEP Deputy Press Secretary.
“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 [and] Mosaic continues to regularly update the department and EPA on progress.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is also visiting the site regularly to keep tabs on the process of cleaning up the radioactive waste.
— JOE (@joe_nuzz) September 17, 2016
The Florida aquifer is known for supplying water to approximately 100,000 square miles, reaching from Florida to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Residents of the immediate area are concerned that the lack of notification might result in radioactive poisoning as they bathe in, and consume, the drinking water in their homes. Despite Mosaic’s reassurance that no contaminated radioactive water has leaked into the public water supply, there are worries of the unknown, such as pools of the water collecting in an unknown crater within the sinkhole that is not accessible or known to the clean up team. There are greater concerns that the potentially concealed water may leak into the water system at a later time.
Sinkhole dumps reprocessed water into Florida aquifer https://t.co/5zqsmBT33R pic.twitter.com/9RhHwKIaof
— WESH 2 News (@WESH) September 16, 2016
Mosaic Fertilizer has since kept the public up to date on the issue via their website. Any resident that is concerned about the safety of their drinking water is urged to contact Mosaic Fertilizer directly by calling 813-500-6575 to request a free drinking water well test.
Despite the incident, Mosaic Fertilizer has reassured its customers that plant operation is continuing as normal.
“We continue to operate the New Wales facility and manufacture fertilizer. There has been no interruption in operations as a result of this incident.”
[Featured Image by Adam Gregor/Shutterstock]