Hundreds of millions of gallons of acidic waste were dumped into the underlying aquifer in Mulberry ,Florida last month due to the opening of a 300-foot-deep sinkhole. Despite the pollution, the company failed to inform residents of the spill.
The fertilizer company Mosaic found out about the spill and informed the County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Then, they quietly went to work to stop the problem.
Legally, Mosaic had no obligation to inform the public that 215 million gallons of contaminated water had fallen into the aquifer. There was no indication the pollution had entered groundwater supplies and therefore, technically, the company wasn’t harming anyone.
If one is arguing technicalities, Mosaic isn’t at fault for failing to reveal the massive leakage at its site. However, in remaining silent, the company forfeited all claims of being an ethical business.
Mosaic claims to “strive to be a thoughtful and engaged neighbor, using our financial resources, expertise and innovative spirit to demonstrate our shared commitment to good corporate citizenship,” according to its website.
A thoughtful neighbor would have alerted others if they accidently allowed 215 million gallons of waste into the aquifer.
The danger of the Mosaic sinkhole is the contaminated water could possibly leave the area and pollute local residents’ groundwater. Mosaic, however, claims that possibility is practically nonexistent.
“Mosaic said that the closest well, the water would take something like … three years to get there, but that’s probably just saying ‘Well, here’s a solid lump of rock and this is how quickly water can move through that rock,’” Philip Van Beynen, an associate professor in the school of geosciences at USF, told The Oracle.
“That’s not Florida limestone. It’s full of holes, like, you know, think about Swiss cheese or a sponge. That’s kind of what it looks like.”
Mosaic has attempted to extract the pollutants by sucking up the aquifer water and separating the contamination from the clean water. It will be nearly impossible to completely remedy this screw up, and the extraction will more than likely not be impactful, according to Beynen.
The aquifer system runs throughout Florida and contamination could potentially affect drinking water for the state. Until the sinkhole is filled, every heavy rainfall will leak more contaminated water into the aquifer.
Unfortunately, Mosaic told the Tampa Bay Times it will probably take months to completely fill the 300-foot-deep hole.
Residents have no choice but to sit and wait for the polluted water to either be extracted or seep through the limestone and into the local drinking water.
Mosaic has offered to pay for tests of local residents’ wells and provide free bottles of water for all those concerned until the well tests are completed. Hopefully the excessive waste will remain isolated in the immediate location.
If it begins to move, residents of Mulberry could find themselves in a situation reminiscent of Flint, Michigan: contaminated water with no plans for remedy.
“I regret and apologize for not providing information sooner, and am committed to providing regular updates to the public as we move forward,” said Walter Precourt, senior vice president of Phosphates at Mosaic, in an address to the Polk County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday.
“As new information is available, we will be posting it on our website, and providing continued updates to regulators, the press, our local community, and most importantly our neighbors.”
Breanne Williams is a senior majoring in mass communications.