“After testing more than 1,300 wells, we have good assurance there’s been no off-site impact.” Mosaic employee Herschel Morris, vice president of operations.
However, many nearby residents believe that poisons going directly into the aquifer will have an impact, as the contaminated water migrates away from the site. After intentionally hiding news of the aquifer contamination from the public, Mosaic has lost all credibility.
The following is an article which appeared in The Ledger.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Mosaic announces new water well testing program
Posted Dec 1, 2016 at 12:46 PM Updated Dec 1, 2016 at 5:06 PM
Mosaic will also provide free bottled water to participants for up to 30 days after the return of the test results.
By Kevin Bouffard
LAKELAND – The Mosaic Co. on Thursday announced a new limited water well testing program in an effort to reassure Polk and Hillsborough county residents about the safety of their drinking water following a major environmental accident in September.
The company has sent out letters to more than 200 residents near its New Wales fertilizer manufacturing plant with an offer to test their wells every three months next year and twice in 2018, said spokeswoman Callie Neslund.
As of Thursday, Mosaic has tested 1,329 wells in the immediate area of the New Wales gypsum stack that collapsed on Sept. 5, sending an estimated 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan Aquifer, she said. None have shown signs of contamination related to the accident, which would include high levels of sulfate and salt and slight radioactivity.
The company will offer continue testing only to the neighbors within a four-mile radius of the sinkhole, Neslund said. It will no longer test wells outside the four-mile perimeter on requests received after Thursday.
Mosaic has been providing free bottled water to testing participants until they receive results. It has provided bottled water to more than 800 residences through Thursday.
It will continue providing bottled water for new requests within the four-mile limit, Neslund said.
Mosaic is taking the action to reassure local residents about the safety of their drinking water, Herschel Morris, vice president of operations, told The Ledger.
The company hired an independent Florida company, ECT Environmental Consulting & Technology, to do the well water testing, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has also taken samples and reviewed ECT’s results.
Mosaic has honored requests to test wells in the immediate area but did not set a distance limit. It has tested wells as far as 40 miles away from the sinkhole into northern Hardee and Manatee counties, Neslund said.
The four-mile limit will encompass only residences in southwestern Polk, including the Nichols and Bradley Junction communities, and southeastern Hillsborough, she said.
Morris would not say if the testing program will extend beyond 2018.
“We’ll follow the science, and based on the data it provides, we’ll continue or not,” he said. “After testing more than 1,300 wells, we have good assurance there’s been no off-site impact.”
The company will continue pumping up water from monitor wells near the gypsum stack for several years until tests show water quality back to normal.
Mosaic experienced a public relations firestorm after delaying public notification of the accident. It immediately notified DEP, which also faced heavy criticism for not informing the public right away.
The controversy led to Gov. Rick Scott’s Sept. 27 visit to the New Wales plant. He used the event to announce a new state regulation requiring Florida companies and local governments immediately notify the public in the event of an environmental accident.
Scott said he would work with the Legislature next year to enact the requirement in law.
Earlier Morris and Walt Precourt, chief executive for Mosaic’s Florida phosphate operations, apologized to the Polk County Commission for the delay in public notification. Commissioner Melony Bell, who represents the Southwest Polk phosphate area, joined her colleagues in criticizing the company.
On Thursday, Bell said she was satisfied with Mosaic’s record since then.
“Since the story broke, they have been very up front with the public,” Bell said. “I think they learned from their mistake. They should have notified the public right away.”
To date, however, Bell has received no calls from residents of the area expressing concerns about well water contamination, she said.
“I have relatives in that area, and believe me, I would be hearing from them if there were problems,” Bell added.
The water came from a pond sitting on top of a gypsum stack near the New Wales plant.
Gypsum is a byproduct of phosphate fertilizer manufacturing. Because of environmental issues, including contaminants such as salt, sulfate and radium, which is slightly radioactive, gypsum must be stored and controlled in mounds that reach dozens of feet above ground.
A Mosaic technician monitoring the stack noticed a substantial drop of about two feet in the pond level on Aug. 27, according to Mosaic officials. Investigators determined water was leaking into the aquifer from a small sinkhole that had opened under the stack, a diagnosis that was confirmed on Sept. 5 when a 45-foot-wide sinkhole opened up, completely draining the pond.
Work continues on filling in the sinkhole, which extends more than 200 feet from the top of the gypsum stack and about 40 feet below ground level, Morris said. At the bottom of the sinkhole are large chunks of hardened gypsum blocks, forming channels allowing water to seep into the aquifer.
The plan calls for pouring a concrete-like grout onto the bottom of the sinkhole, sealing off the leakage, he said.
The cleanup effort will cost $50 million to $60 million.
Mosaic will begin a series of community forums to talk with residents about issues related to the sinkhole mishap, Morris and Neslund said. The first one is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Bradley Junction.
“I think the more we talk with people, the more they’re reassured, the more their fears are diminished, and they have a better understanding that they don’t have anything to worry about,” Morris said. “We are working really, really hard to make this right.”
— Kevin Bouffard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-401-6980.
*photo by Ernst Peters of the Ledger