A GIGANTIC sinkhole at a Florida fertiliser plant has caused 215million gallons of radioactive water to leak into a main source of the state’s drinking water supply, The Sun reports. The sinkhole, which is 45 feet wide and 300 feet deep, opened up underneath a pile of waste material at Mosaic, the world’s largest phosphate mining company.
A storage pond containing the radioactive water, laced with sulphate and sodium, sat on top of the waste pile – and has now drained into the aquifer system, which supplies water to millions of Florida residents, as well as southern Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.The sinkhole was discovered in August after an employee noticed water levels had dropped in the waste material, phosphogypsum, which is a by-product of fertiliser.
But Mosaic has defended its decision to wait three weeks before informing the public, insisting that although “some seepage continues”, there is no evidence of contaminated off-site water.
David Jellerson, the company’s senior director for environmental and phosphate projects, said: “Groundwater moves very slowly. There’s absolutely nobody at risk. “The water is safe to drink and it will remain safe to drink.”
However, nearby residents remain concerned. Melanie Wood, who lives a few miles away, told WFTS: ‘The first word that comes to mind when you hear radioactive is cancer. “I’m concerned. Are my kids going to get sick? Am I going to get sick? My neighbor’s pregnant, what’s this going to do to her baby?”
The company says it has been diverting the water to an alternate area since the problem was detected – and sucking contaminated water from the aquifer back into the plant, which has continued to run. It also says it is offering free water testing services to residents who get their drinking water from wells.
Jellerson explained: “We have an extensive monitoring system. It’s already indicating that it’s recovering the material, but it will take some time for that process to complete.”
The incident comes less than a year after Mosaic settled a massive federal environmental lawsuit with the US Environmental Protection Agency – after it was discovered they improperly handled facilities, threatening environmental and human health.
Mosaic agreed to nearly $2 billion in fixes, improvements and clean-ups at its plants and publicly committed to becoming more environmentally friendly – but opposing groups believe the damage from the sinkhole could be severe.
Tania Galloni, an attorney with Earthjustice, said: “I wish we could say that watching an environmental tragedy unfolding at a Florida phosphate mining site was a new occurrence, but sadly it’s happened repeatedly.
“These phosphate companies are playing roulette with our public waters.”