Florida Residents Sue Mosaic Over Massive, Radioactive Sinkhole
Mosaic Fertilizer has been slammed with a federal lawsuit over the massive, radioactive sinkhole that opened under its New Wales plant in Mulberry, Florida, 30 miles east of Tampa.
The sinkhole, formed below a phosphogypsum stack, has leaked an estimated 215 million gallons of contaminated wastewater into the Floridan Aquifer, posing a potentially serious threat to drinking water. To make matters worse, news reports indicate that the fertilizer giant and state officials knew about the problem for three weeks but failed to notify the public.
Attorneys from ClassAction.com filed a 23-page class action complaint on behalf of Nicholas Bohn, Natasha McCormick and Eric Weckman—local residents who rely on private wells as their source of water. The lawsuit was filed at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa.
"Residents in the communities that surround the New Wales facility have legitimate concern for the integrity and safety of their water supplies as the toxic radioactive and other chemical wastewater is in the Floridan Aquifer causing, and will continue to cause, water contamination," the complaint reads.
"There are approximately 5,000 individuals who live in within five miles of the sinkhole who obtain their water from private wells and are impacted by the sinkhole," it states. "It is estimated there are over 1,500 private wells in the impacted area."
Mosaic's "conscious actions and omissions disregarded foreseeable risks to human health and safety and to the environment," the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages, including reimbursement or funding for private well testing, monitoring and treatment if tests show the well is contaminated.
Morgan & Morgan environmental attorney Rene Rocha is one of the attorneys taking on the case. When asked via email if the plaintiffs are seeking a specific dollar amount, Rocha explained to EcoWatch that the main intention of the lawsuit is to keep people safe and to hold Mosaic accountable.
"We are seeking recovery for all damages suffered by the residents in the area, but it is too early to assign any specific dollar amount to that," he wrote. "First and foremost we are concerned with ensuring the safety of people living nearby the facility, and the integrity of their water supply."
Since the Sept. 22 filing, Rocha said, "We have been contacted by many residents who are concerned."
A statement from ClassAction.com noted it is "yet unclear to what extent these wastes have travelled through the Aquifer, but the wastes contain extremely toxic and radioactive contaminants such as radium, radon, uranium, thorium, and lead, as well as other non-radioactive toxins." Its attorneys are continuing to monitor the environmental impact of the sinkhole, as well as any possible health risks posed by the water's contaminants.
"This lawsuit is about providing peace of mind to families living nearby the plant. It's about making sure they are confident their water is safe, and that they don't have to take the word of a company that repeatedly disregards the public and the environment in pursuit of profits," ClassAction.com attorney John Yanchunis said.
In response to the lawsuit, Mosaic spokeswoman Callie Neslund told the Associated Press, "We are reviewing the details of this filing and will respond through the judicial process."
Walt Precourt, Mosaic's senior vice president of phosphates, addressed the Polk County Board of County Commissioners on Sept. 20.
"On behalf of Mosaic and our nearly 4,000 employees in Florida, we'd like to express our sincere regret that the sinkhole and water recovery operations on our property have caused concerns for the community," he said. "I regret and apologize for not providing information sooner, and am committed to providing regular updates to the public as we move forward."
On its website, Mosaic says it is offering water tests free of charge. A third-party testing company has taken samples from 52 wells, with 210 testing appointments scheduled. Mosaic is also offering free bottled water to those who request it.
Awful! Massive sinkhole in US releasing radioactive waste into aquifer: https://t.co/JeEO5FJ6I3 #Florida https://t.co/rtpD5kysn3— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace)1474308908.0
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said in its most recent update that "ongoing monitoring of nearby wells continues to indicate that affected water is contained to the impacted site."
"The nearest private drinking well is around 3 miles away from the site, and thus far in DEP's investigation there is no indication that there is a threat to this well," the agency continued. "Both Mosaic and DEP will continue to perform sampling, and if any indication of off-site migration is seen, affected homeowners will be immediately notified."
"Mosaic wants to mine an additional 50,000 acres of Florida's beautiful, biodiverse lands, but this incident makes clear it can't even handle the radioactive waste it currently generates," said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "We must come together and demand that our counties, our state and our federal government reject further expansion of this dangerous industry."
Incidentally, as ClassAction.com pointed out on its website, Mosaic has somewhat of a "checkered past" with toxic messes. On October 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a nearly $2 billion hazardous waste settlement with Mosaic, forcing it to clean up 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste at eight facilities, including the New Wales site where the new sinkhole appeared.
The sinkhole was discovered by a Mosaic worker on Aug. 27 but news of its discovery was not made public until Sept. 11. Several local residents have spoken up since news broke.
"I'm not going to pay for it. They'll pay for it I'm pretty sure," Dixie Mason, who lives about two miles away from the sinkhole, told ABC Action News.
Preliminary reports from private wells showed "normal" readings of sodium, sulfate and fluoride. However, some neighbors have expressed confusion and frustration that radioactivity readings—the one thing everyone was looking for—were not yet provided in the report. Watch below:
The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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