Attorneys File First Lawsuit Against Mosaic Over Florida Sinkhole

On September 22, 2016, three Lithia, Florida residents (Nicholas Bohn, Natasha McCormick, and Eric Weckman) filed a class action lawsuit against Mosaic Fertilizer over the massive sinkhole that recently appeared in the area, leaking radioactive water into the Floridan Aquifer.

The complaint—filed by attorneys in partnership with New York-based firm Weitz & Luxenberg—seeks relief for water treatment and monitoring as well as property damage, and alleges that Mosaic “recklessly and negligently managed, operated and stored toxic radioactive wastewater produced from Defendants’ New Wales Facility.”

View the Mosaic Complaint

The plaintiffs also argue that Mosaic violated Florida’s Pollutant Discharge Prevention and Control Act and is likewise liable for an abnormally dangerous activity, nuisance, negligence, and gross negligence.

The plaintiffs brought the class action lawsuit on behalf of anyone similarly situated and affected by the Mosaic sinkhole, noting that roughly 5,000 people live within five miles of the sinkhole “who obtain their water from private wells and are impacted by the sinkhole.”

If you have been similarly impacted by the Mosaic sinkhole, contact us today. You may qualify for a lawsuit.

What Took Mosaic So Long to Come Clean?

On August 27, 2016, a 300-foot-deep sinkhole appeared at the Mosaic Fertilizer phosphate mine in Mulberry, Florida.

Nearly three weeks later, on September 15, Mosaic notified the public through its website. The massive sinkhole has since made headlines after leaking 215 million gallons of potentially radioactive water into the Floridan Aquifer—Florida’s main source of drinking water.

So why on earth didn’t Mosaic alert residents sooner? Why wait three weeks to break the story, while families drink and swim in this potentially toxic water?

Because they could.

Hold Mosaic Accountable

Mosaic Not Legally Obligated to Disclose Leak

According to the Tampa Bay Times, a 2005 state law requires only that companies report contaminations to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within ten days of learning about them. The DEP then has 30 days to notify residents who could be affected.

This is a stark change from 1994, the last time a sinkhole of this nature formed at the same site. Then, the public learned of the incident almost immediately and could respond accordingly—by testing their water, for example, or pursuing legal action.

In his apology for the three-week delay, Mosaic’s Senior Vice President of Phosphates Walt Precourt failed to explain why Mosaic felt Polk County residents didn’t deserve to learn of the leak sooner. Mr. Precourt said simply:

“I regret and apologize for not providing information sooner. We immediately took steps to remove as much water from the leaking process pond as possible and are now operating a recovery well to remove the rest of the water from the aquifer.”

Given Mosaic’s checkered past, the delay may come as no surprise.

Mosaic Has History of Questionable Ethics

In October 2015, the EPA reached a settlement with Mosaic over 60 billion pounds of toxic waste pollution. According to the EPA, Mosaic’s violations included the following:

  • Failure to make hazardous waste determinations for scrubber effluents, fluorosilicic acid-production wastes, product spills and leaks, and wastes from cleaning pipes and tanks;
  • Treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes without a permit or interim status;
  • Failure to perform land disposal determinations and to meet land disposal restrictions for hazardous wastes;
  • Failure to provide adequate financial assurance for closure, long-term care, and third-party liability; and
  • Failure to comply with record-keeping requirements

Under the settlement terms, Mosaic paid $1.8 billion and agreed to reduce and more safely store toxic waste at eight of its facilities—including the New Wales site where the new sinkhole appeared.


Mosaic agreed to “install advanced engineering controls that will mitigate future impacts from its phosphyogypsum stack systems” (such as the one where the Mulberry sinkhole formed).

Mosaic also “agreed to implement an estimated $1.2 million environmental project in Florida to mitigate and prevent certain potential environmental impacts associated with an orphaned industrial property located in Mulberry, Florida.”

Leak Will Cost Mosaic Upwards of $50 Million

A Mosaic executive says fixing the leak will cost $20-50 million. But that’s just a drop in the bucket to the largest fertilizer company in the world, one that generated $11.1 billion in revenue in 2012.

Instead of paying tens of millions of dollars to clean up its toxic messes, or paying billions of dollars in EPA penalties, why doesn’t Mosaic overhaul its operations to prevent these hazardous accidents in the first place?

Many of Mosaic’s EPA settlement terms from last year involved not just safety (e.g., preventing radioactive waste from leaking into Florida’s water supply) but transparency. The idea was not only to reduce toxic waste, but to be upfront in the event of a leak or spill so that agencies and residents could take the appropriate steps.

Hold Mosaic Accountable

By keeping Floridians in the dark for three weeks about a potentially harmful leak, Mosaic has violated the spirit of that settlement if not the actual terms. It has also further eroded any remaining trust residents had in the company and the process of phosphate mining as a whole.

It will take more than free water bottles to regain that trust.

5 FAQs About the Mosaic Sinkhole

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.

Hold Mosaic Accountable

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.

You may qualify for a lawsuit against Mosaic. Morgan & Morgan is one of the nation’s leading plaintiffs-only law firms. In addition to filing legal proceedings against Mosaic, the firm’s attorneys will continue to monitor the environmental impact of the sinkhole, as well as any possible health risks posed by the water’s contaminants.

If you own land or a well in Hillsborough or Polk County and feel you have been adversely affected by the Mosaic sinkhole, contact us today for a free case review.

Hold Mosaic Accountable

You may also want to read more on this issue via the following sources: 

EPA: National Emission Standards for Radon Emissions from Phosphogypsum Stacks
Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute (FIPR): Phosphogypsum and the EPA Ban
Statement from Center for Biological Diversity on Sinkhole at Radioactive Strip Mine in Central Florida
WFLA: “Contaminated well concerns prompt protests after Mosaic sinkhole incident
The Weather Channel: “Sinkhole Leaks More Than 200 Million Gallons of Contaminated Water into Florida Aquifer”

5 FAQs About the Calumet Lead Crisis

1. Which parts of East Chicago have been affected by the Calumet lead crisis? How broad is the contaminated area?

The contamination site encompasses the Calumet neighborhood of East Chicago. If you live outside of that neighborhood—in Whiting, for example—we haven’t been made aware of any environmental issues as yet.

However, there are 39 other areas in Indiana that have been tainted by hazardous waste and therefore designated “Superfund” sites by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You can find a list of these locations here.

2. What should I do if I live in Calumet?

If you live in the West Calumet Housing Complex, you must relocate by November 30, 2016. The complex and Carrie Gosch Elementary School comprise Zone 1 of the EPA’s cleanup efforts.

If you live in another part of Calumet, the EPA is now testing the soil and determining the best course of action. The Times of Northwest Indiana reports: “EPA has started to release soil sampling results to residents in zone 3, the eastern part of the neighborhood. EPA will begin cleanup at the most contaminated properties this fall, and work is expected to continue next spring.”

You should also receive free blood testing at the East Chicago Health Department or at Carrie Gosch to determine the lead levels in your blood and your children’s. According to Jennifer O’Malley, director of public affairs for the Indiana State Department of Health, anything above 5 micrograms per deciliter (5 μg/dL) is considered elevated.

Calumet Toxic Soil Infographic

(Infographic sources listed at bottom of page.)

3. Who is most vulnerable to lead poisoning?

“Children age six and under and pregnant women are the most vulnerable populations because of the way the brain develops,” Ms. O’Malley tells the Public News Service. “The brain actually starts developing in the womb, so we are most concerned about those younger children and pregnant women.”

4. How can I reduce my children’s exposure to lead?

Dr. Richard Troast, PhD—founder of Troast Environmental Consulting—offers the following advice for curbing the risk of lead poisoning:

Shortening the period of exposure may reduce the toxic effects. This can be accomplished by removing lead sources within the household. Lead paint can be removed, lead dust removed through intensive cleaning, and lead in soil through the use of ground cover to minimize the release of the dirt and lead into the home. Parents can move into lead-free residences. Generally, homes built after the ban of lead based paints [in 1978] will be safer than homes built prior. However, when in doubt, there are commercial certified contractors available to test the home.

Additionally, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) advises the following:

  • Don’t let children play in dirt or mulch
  • Wash children’s toys regularly
  • Wash children’s hands after they play outside
  • Remove shoes before entering homes
  • In Superfund sites like West Calumet Housing Complex, do not disturb mulch or dig/garden in yards

5. What can I do if a family member has an elevated level of lead in his or her blood?

See Question #4 for ways to reduce present and future lead exposure.

The Mayo Clinic states, “A level of 5 mcg/dL or higher indicates your child may have unsafe levels of lead in their blood and should have their blood tested periodically. If levels become too high—generally 45 mcg/dL or higher—your child should be treated.”

Cases in which the lead level is 45 μg/dL or higher may require intravenous drug treatment like ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA).

ClassAction will continue to investigate this crisis and keep you informed as news breaks. If you have been personally affected by the Calumet soil crisis, please feel free to share your story in the Comments section below this article.

Infographic sources/further reading:

Northwest Indiana Times: “Timeline: History of the USS Lead Superfund Site in E.C.”
Chicago Tribune: “East Chicago residents fleeing lead contamination find few housing options”
NPR: “East Chicago Residents Search for Answers About Their Health”
Northwest Indiana Times: “EPA to begin cleanup in East Chicago”

Toxic Soil in East Chicago Complex Has Shocking Lead Levels

Residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Indiana were advised in late July that due to dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil the complex would be demolished and they’d have to find new homes.

The extent of soil contamination is much higher than West Calumet residents—more than half of whom are children—were previously led to believe they were. The top six inches of soil in West Calumet yards have lead levels up to 30 times higher than the level considered safe for children, in addition to dangerous levels of arsenic. Initial testing shows that hundreds of children have excessive lead levels. is investigating the toxic soil scandal in West Calumet and determining how we can best help residents there. Stay in the know and protect your family by contacting us.

Stay Informed

Former Industrial Site Poisoned Ground

West Calumet sits atop the U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc. Superfund site. From 1906 to 1985 a copper smelter, lead refinery, and lead smelter operated on the site. EPA has identified Anaconda/Atlantic Richfield, DuPont, and USS Lead as the sources of contamination.

EPA sought Superfund status for the site in 2008 and began initial soil testing that revealed some “hot spots,” EPA acting regional administrator for the Great Lakes region told the New York Times. Kaplan says EPA removed soil from these hot spots and did so again in 2011.

“Preliminary results reveal that hundreds of children suffer from excessive levels of lead in their blood.”

In 2012 EPA had a plan in place to remove contaminated soil from 57% (723 out of 1271) of West Calumet properties. In 2014 EPA and the state of Indiana entered into a site cleanup agreement with Atlantic Richfield and DuPont.

But it wasn’t until May, when EPA gave lead and arsenic data to East Chicago city officials as part of the soil removal plan, that West Calumet residents learned just how toxic their soil is.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland, who upon obtaining the lead and arsenic data called for demolishing the housing complex rather than following the soil removal plan, accused EPA of withholding data about the levels of lead and arsenic contamination from the city.

“Despite the EPA’s knowledge for more than a decade of the unprecedented high levels of lead contamination in the soils, the EPA neither performed not requested testing of residents’ blood (lead) levels,” Copeland wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Instead, when the city became aware of the extremely high levels of lead in the soil on May 24, 2016, it immediately commenced testing. Preliminary results reveal that hundreds of children suffer from excessive levels of lead in their blood.”

Lead poisoning is of particular concern to children. West Calumet parents have described a range of symptoms in their children consistent with lead poisoning, including headaches, stomachaches, and nausea. Even low levels of lead exposure in children can irreversibly harm their developing brains and nervous systems.

Sign Up for Breaking News About West Calumet

There are currently more questions than answers about West Calumet toxic soil. Residents wonder whether they’ll be able to afford new, safe housing and how they’ll help their poisoned children.

Ultimately, liability for the toxic West Calumet soil and resulting health issues lies with the companies that operated there for most of the 20th century.

Lawyers for are investigating what legal remedies may be available for residents harmed by West Calumet toxic soil.

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