1. What is the Mosaic sinkhole and how did it form?
The Mosaic sinkhole is a massive 45-foot-wide sinkhole that recently formed at the Mosaic fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Florida.
The hole was first discovered on August 27, 2016, but Mosaic did not alert the public until September 16—nearly three weeks later. (We don’t yet know whether Mosaic alerted authorities more promptly.)
Two hundred and fifteen million gallons of radioactive wastewater have drained into the sinkhole, and into the Floridan aquifer system. Mosaic admits that the contaminants have reached the aquifer.
2. What is phosphogypsum?
Phosphogypsum is a waste product formed in the production of fertilizer from phosphate ore. (Florida produces 90% of the United States’ phosphate for fertilizers.) Although gypsum is a widely used material in construction, phosphogypsum is not used but rather stored indefinitely due to its radioactivity.
The process of phosphate mining is controversial due to its environmental implications.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of phosphogypsum in 1989. Since then, the agency “requires that phosphogypsum be stored in above-ground stacks, which are designed to keep emissions of radon and other radionuclides in line with acceptable risk practices.”
According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), phosphate mining also releases radon into the air, which can cause cancer.
3. How does the sinkhole affect Floridians?
It has contaminated the Floridan Aquifer used by millions of Floridians for drinking water.
The aquifer system is an underground network of porous rocks through which water passes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “The Floridan aquifer system is the primary source of water for nearly 10 million people and supports agriculture, industry, and tourism throughout most of the region.”
“The Floridan aquifer system is the primary source of water for nearly 10 million people and supports agriculture, industry, and tourism throughout most of the region.”
The Weather Channel reports that the Floridan Aquifer is “the principal source of groundwater for much of the state, and the cities of Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Tampa, and St. Petersburg all rely on it.”
Additionally, according to environmental attorney Frank Petosa, water that escapes from the aquifers creates springs that are used for recreational activities like swimming and snorkeling.
The contaminants from the Mosaic sinkhole will likely include natural radionuclides like uranium and radium (as per the EPA’s page on phosphoygypsum stacks).
4. Has this happened before?
Yes. In 1994, a 185-foot-deep sinkhole formed below an 80-million-ton pile of radioactive waste at this same facility. (See Slide 4 in this National Geographic article for a jarring photo and more details on the 1994 sinkhole.)
It is no wonder, then, that environmentalist groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have long called for an end to phosphate mining. Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the CBD, states:
“Enough is enough. 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. We must come together and demand that our counties, our state and our federal government reject further expansion of this dangerous industry.”
In response to the Mosaic sinkhole, protestors gathered outside of Mulberry City Hall aiming to hold the industrial company accountable. Many expressed grave concern over how water contamination could affect their health and the health of their families.
5. What should I do if I live in the affected area?
If you live in Hillsborough or Polk County and own land or a well in one of those counties, you should call 888-987-1307 to determine the best course of action.
Morgan & Morgan is one of the nation’s leading plaintiffs-only law firms. In addition to filing legal proceedings against Mosaic, the firm’s ClassAction.com attorneys will continue to monitor the environmental impact of the sinkhole, as well as any possible health risks posed by the water’s contaminants.
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