Lyons: Mosaic? You Mean that Environmental Organization?

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Would you say that covering up a major threat to the drinking water of an unknown number of Floridians is ethical behavior?

The Mosaic Company received recognition as one of Ethisphere Institute’s World’s Most Ethical Companies. The coveted honor acknowledges companies that outperform industry peers through ethical behavior. (the Mosaic website)

Below is an article written by Tom Lyons and published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life:  once taken, it cannot be brought back-


 

Lyons: Mosaic? You mean that environmental organization?

Monday

Posted Sep 19, 2016 at 6:45 PM Updated at 8:25 AM

By Tom Lyons
Columnist
The Sierra Club’s Andre Mele says he has been talking for a while about filing a federal lawsuit against Mosaic, the multibillion-dollar phosphate mining company whose logo and ads he sees everywhere.

That lawsuit wouldn’t necessarily be about the massive environmental degradation caused by Mosaic. It would involve the Federal Communications Commission, of all things.

The suit he would love to file would charge Mosaic with flagrantly false advertising.

I so get that. That company’s ads and public relations efforts are wonderfully effective. They show happy Mosaic employees proudly reciting the “I am Mosaic” mantra, often while doing something cool to protect the environment.

They claim to be stewards of the land. They boast of company donations that build facilities for bird watching at nature preserves and the like.

Though some of Mosaic’s strip-mining operation is wrecking land in and near Manatee County and is polluting and endangering water and air there, Mele says, the average local resident has little clue that mining phosphate is how Mosaic makes it billions.

The ads do such a great job, he says, that many people don’t even realize Mosaic is a mining company at all.

“They think it is an environmental group,” Mele says.

You can almost hear him slapping his head.

You are not likely to see Mosaic’s latest newsworthy event mentioned in any future warm and friendly ads, which are sure to be full of more nice people planting trees or admiring some lush-looking crops or protecting an eagle nest or the like.

What they will not be doing, as some actual Mosaic employees have, is watching in embarrassed horror as at least 220 million gallons of very acidic and somewhat radioactive and pollutant-filled water drains through a sinkhole toward Florida’s underground drinking supply.

I can’t really vouch for the embarrassed horror. I’d like to think some Mosaic employees are still capable of that, but it could be that, with all they see, that disaster was just not that shocking.

The company sure tried to play it as no big deal. It was about three weeks before any news stories came out. Mosaic spokespeople said they had not announced it because they were sure there was no danger to the public.

Right. No visible danger, certainly.

mele
Andre Mele

Even on an ordinary day, the many millions of gallons of water Mosaic uses and pollutes and makes somewhat radioactive is overwhelmingly troubling. Acreage turned into barren holes dug by draglines is astounding. A lot of the mining is done near the headwaters of the Myakka, Peace and Manatee rivers.

That’s routine for the mining industry that prefers you not see or think much about mining.

But late in August, when that sinkhole opened up in Polk County beneath a towering stack of Mosaic’s waste material — one of many stacks Mosaic uses to hold some of its most polluted waste and water — and caused the polluted water to drain toward Florida’s interconnected system of aquifers, the company was probably slow to speak up because its public relations people were focused on more support of youth sports and nature preserves and the like.

News of a sudden and massive pollution of our drinking water? Totally off message.

Mele’s guess is that the pollution escape was probably several times as large as admitted. With Mosaic in charge of the monitoring wells, who knows if we will know if that polluted water starts to become detectable on its way to drinking water sources.

But the incident may have caused Mosaic some inconvenience, and I don’t mean just because the hole still has to be plugged and is still seeping polluted water.

I’m talking about the delay of the presentation that Mosaic had planned to get the all-too compliant Manatee County Commission to grant permits to let the company expand again. It wants to mine another 3,600 acres in east Manatee.

This week the company announced that the meeting date has been moved back to January.

Good idea. By then, people still won’t know what they are drinking, but most will have forgotten this latest pollution incident. The phosphate industry is counting on it.

Mosaic? Aren’t they that nice environmental group?

— Tom Lyons can be contacted at tom.lyons@heraldribune.com.

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