water pollution

Florida sinkhole at fertiliser site leaks radioactive water

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 3:58pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 9:29pm

A sinkhole spanning 13.7 metres in diameter opened at a Mosaic Company phosphate fertiliser facility in Florida, leaking 814 litres of “slightly radioactive water”, a company spokesman said on Friday.

Mosaic said the monitoring system at its New Wales facility at Mulberry, Florida, showed a decline in water levels on August 27 from the retention pond of a phosphogypsum stack, a hill of hazardous waste. Phosphogypsum is a radioactive by-product resulting from the production of phosphate.

It’s hard to trust them when they say ‘don’t worry’, when they’ve been keeping it secret for three weeks
Jacki Lopez of the Centre for Biological Diversity

The Minnesota-based company immediately reported the incident to state and federal environmental authorities, Mosaic spokesman Ben Pratt said on Friday. But it did not otherwise report it publicly until posting information on its website on Thursday, he said.

The leaked water is enough to fill more than 300 Olympic swimming pools.

The nearly three-week gap between detecting the sinkhole and reporting it to the public is alarming, said Jacki Lopez, Florida director of the Centre for Biological Diversity.

“It’s hard to trust them when they say ‘Don’t worry,’ when they’ve been keeping it secret for three weeks,” she said.

The sinkhole, located about 30 miles from Tampa, damaged the liner system at the base of the stack, causing the pond on top to drain. Seepage continued and the sinkhole reached Florida’s aquifer, Mosaic said on its website.

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Specific environmental and health concerns are the release of uranium, radium and radon gas, Lopez said. Once contaminants reach the aquifer, which extends from central Florida to Georgia, they can potentially travel hundreds of miles, she said.

“We don’t know what the long-term effects will be,” said Lopez. “If I were living in this area, and I had well water, I would be worried about my health.”

Mosaic said it had increased monitoring and sampling of groundwater and found no off-site impact. It also said it pumped water out of the affected pond to reduce the volume of leakage.

The company said it is attempting to recover the water through production wells on site. The incident has not interrupted operations at the facility.

In 2015, Mosaic reached an US$800 million settlement with US regulators over its waste management practices at plants in Florida and Louisiana.