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:
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Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
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A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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