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Mosaic Spill: Aquifers 101

Mosaic officials claim that 215 million gallons of contaminated water was sucked down into the Floridan aquifer system through a massive sinkhole underneath their phosphogypsum stack at the company's New Wales fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Florida. A closer look at both the evidence and Mosaic's history suggest this shouldn't have been much of a surprise.

David Jellerson, senior director for environmental and phosphate projects at Mosaic, says he is confident no contaminants will migrate offsite. He claims Mosaic's monitoring wells will capture the fugitive chemical mixture and that there is "no risk to the public."

Mosaic officials first reported the breach to the public three weeks after they claim two workers–said to be monitoring the fluid levels in the stack–noticed the drop, indicating a problem. It was then, the company claims, that pumps were installed to retrieve the remaining fluid in the stack in search of the calamity's origin.

Jellerson said the surrounding monitoring wells will assist in retrieving what was swallowed by the sinkhole, and that according to evidence from those same wells, the lost contaminated water has not moved to where it threatens neighboring wells, therefore not yet presenting a threat to local residents.

Jellerson says the closest residents are several miles away and that they can still use their water without worry; again reiterating, "There's absolutely nobody at risk." He says Mosaic will test residents' water if there are concerns.

That offer was repeated by Mosaic's Director of Regulatory Affairs, Debbie Waters. Waters reported to news-press.org, "The contaminants, including the radioactive materials, settle out readily ... they don't travel, they're solid materials; they're not in a solution."

Waters added, "A way to describe the radioactivity in the processed water and our gypsum is that it's a low level of naturally occurring radioactivity. The ore we mine out of the ground contains uranium and all the uranium products naturally that are there... But it's still present and it's detectable... Primarily, radium sulfate is the form of the radioactive material that is most expected to be in the gypsum."

Mosaic is currently offering free bottled water and, by request, third-party testing of drinking water wells.

Dee Ann Miller, a Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson, said in an email to the Associated Press, "É we are getting regular updates on the situation." Miller added, "While monitoring to date indicates that the process water is being successfully contained, groundwater monitoring will continue to ensure there are no offsite or long-term effects."

The Tampa Bay Times reported Dee Ann Miller said in an email that the law doesn't require the state or the company involved to notify anyone until there's some sign the pollution has migrated outside the property where it went into the aquifer.

What's missing here is an astute distinction of fact and scientific analysis with nearly everything that has been reported by DEP and Mosaic. The law may not require the company to notify surrounding residents, but it doesn't prevent them from doing so. Mosaic's comfort zone is their inability to identify what scientists around the world have known for decades–for Mosaic ignorance is bliss.

Contradicting the innuendoes that have been wrapped around this sinkhole fiasco, are existing established scientific facts. Geologist David Woodhouse, who has contracted for the EPA, and is a specialist in hydrogeology and geologic forensics, said, "Water goes where it wants to go. You can't bridle it."

Woodhouse added, "The mining of phosphate inherently produces waste in the form of phosphogypsum, which is stored in gypsum stacks. As phosphate ore is dissolved in sulfuric acid, phosphogypsum is released. The stacks are radioactive containing uranium, and its decay product radium 226 (23 isotopes are known and are beta emitters); heavy metals including hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen; cadmium–suspected of causing Lou Gehrig’s disease–and ammonia. Phosphoric acid is also a chemical byproduct that can dissolve limestone which underlies the phosphate mines."

Woodhouse said the pressure pushing the waste water through the sinkhole was variable and the limestone is porous, creating many different scenarios to what it might do.
"The depth the water falls (unrestricted) produces a hydraulic head of almost a half a pound of pressure for every foot of drop. For example, 100 ft. is about 45 psi equivalent to a fire hydrant. Water will flow/discharge to what is known as an environmental sink, a river, stream, or ultimately the ocean (the base level). Depending upon the soil, the head, and the (primary) porosity, the water can move inches to several feet a day, and more often than not the flow travels through the fractures in the rocks allowing the flow to migrate even faster."

Dr. Sydney T. Bacchus, who worked as a Hydroecologist for EPA for years said, "Mosaic's analogy of the aquifer sounds very similar to the bubble theory of aquifer storage and recovery, (ASR) wells that has been refuted repeatedly in various scientific publications by various authors."

"Our publication provided data suggesting that some of the sewage effluent causing algal blooms in the Keys was coming from as far away as Marco Island injection wells on Florida's west coast, traveling through fractures," said Bacchus, adding that "other contaminated water, such as from Mosaic's Mulberry fertilizer plant, can be pulled rapidly through those same fractures, in response to pumping wells, such as municipal supply wells and private supply wells."

This doesn't sound at all like what is being said to the media, but Mosaic has a well documented history of ducking responsibility.

Re: Consent Decree United States v Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC, DJ Ref. No. 90-7-1-08388

A year ago this month, Mosaic acceded to conditions in a "Consent Decree" that requires the phosphate company to make a variety of investments in procedural practices designed to clean-up and repair some of the damage they have left in their wake over the past decade. The settlement exceeded $2 billion, and that amount does not account for any of the damage their parent company (Cargill, operating as IMC) abandoned a decade before that; nor does it factor in Mosaic's New Wales plant disaster that just occurred.

Much of the Consent Decree was structured around Mosaic's lack of maintenance and reclamation. Records presented in a 2012 Administrative Hearing, challenging Mosaic's misuse of water permits and water discharge, demonstrate some of that deception.

Mike Cotter, P.E. Inc. Petition for Administrative Hearing:
Re: Review of Proposed Water Use Permit 20011400.25 Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC
Statement of Disputed Issues of Material Fact: FAC 28-106.21(2)(D)

Although the final conclusion to the petition is being kept sealed and not available to the public, some interesting documents were presented during the two years of hearings.

(Excerpt from pg. 9 of the petition) "The New Wales gypsum stack was issued permit #405417 by the District on December 7, 1989. The permit was transferred to the operations and maintenance phase on November 27,1996. There have been no Inspections, modifications and/or maintenance documents placed in the file of record for this permit since that time. The document is dated February 23, 2012."

The Engineer, Mike Cotter, P.E. Inc. representing the applicant, T. Mims Corp. who filed the petition, passed away March 16, 2014, shortly after one of the Administrative hearings.

In spite of the fact this series of events was not cited in the Consent Decree, it clearly demonstrates the imperious standards Mosaic is accustomed to. And if the truth be told, the 646-page Consent Decree is a toothless document that only appears to hold Mosaic's feet to the fire; when in fact, it actually provides a legal position for Mosaic to continue its usurpation of the state's resources without interference.

The Consent Decree merely suggests Mosaic do what they should have been doing all along. The $2 billion plus is a fraction of what they would have spent if they had been inclined to redeem the catastrophic damage they systematically abandoned in the past.

The problem Mosaic presents cannot be remedied by educating them and/or the public about the science, as it is not about the science or finding balance in what equates to be a slaughter of wildlife, wetlands, property value and common sense. The problem is the rush for revenue.
  • Mosaic portrays themselves as environmentalists to the public via television advertising. They are not selling a product, just the idea that they are saving the world with phosphate. With the current amount of phosphate mining going on in Manatee County, it is little surprise reporting on the New Wales fiasco has been at an embarrassing minimum.
  • Local governments pass special ordinances favorable to phosphate mining only because in many cases the county owns the mineral rights and millions of dollars each year goes to the county's coffers for payment on them. The Bert Harris Act threats can only apply because of the special language that has been inserted in the ordinances.
  • State government provides statutes exclusive to phosphate mining for the same purpose because the state also owns a large amount of the mineral rights and hefty amounts of revenue payments go to the state as well. The DEP structures permit modifications and variances that navigate around Mosaic's responsibility for reclamation so that the check gets put in the mail. Neither local nor state governments get paid on the mineral rights until the project is stamped: mission accomplished.
Mosaic only has to provide a request for a modification on the project that pushes the completion date back five years, claiming unintended circumstances, and then a few years later files for a variance that pardons completion, professing unintended consequences or hardships that are sure to push those million dollar checks years down the road. More often than not, the variance is granted; if not in the first request, surely with the second.

The campaign contributions from the hundreds of managers and department heads that work for Mosaic and the companies they use in their operations all but guarantee their permitting process will go in the mining applicant's favor. Local and state representatives get to appear to be fiscally responsible to the public, while they virtually sell the resources beneath their feet. The public gets stuck with an obliterated water source and a basket of other irremediable problems.

Mosaic's 2015 net sales (revenue) amount to $8.9 billion, generating $1.72 billion in profits for the company; but that amount of revenue couldn't come close to repairing the environmental devastation left in their wake. Consequently, all of the recipients of that revenue keep that fact out of the picture.

One must ask, what is it that allows local and state representatives to hoodwink the very public they have sworn to protect by allowing these catastrophic consequences such as this sinkhole? What is it that allows a television network and local papers to ignore and/or minimize the obvious devastation mining has inflicted across the state and the sickness that has followed?

Woody Allen said it so brilliantly simple in the closing scene of the movie Annie Hall.

"It reminds me of that old joke, you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist's office and says, 'Hey doc, my brother's crazy! He thinks he's a chicken.' Then the doc says, 'Why don't you turn him in?' Then the guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.' "


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