MULBERRY (FOX 13) - When it rains, it pours: 215 million gallons, so far, of radioactive water right into the Floridan aquifer. It’s flowing through a massive sinkhole at the Mosaic phosphate plant in Polk county, and it’s raising a lot of concern about the safety of drinking water.
Joyce Hunter's citrus farm sits about 2 miles away from Mosaic's New Wales phosphate mining plant.
"Generally they're really good neighbors," Hunter explained while staff from Environmental Consulting & Technology tested two of the private wells on her 16-acre farm.
Just last week Joyce found out her “generally really good” neighbor of more than 50 years allowed 215 million gallons of radioactive water to leak into the water supply. She’s worried about her wells, and upset that it took weeks before the public was informed.
"Mistakes happen,” said Hunter. "But the cover up is what gets to us. Don't cover it up. Just tell us. We deserve to know whether the water is good."
Hunter, like many others, is now relying on that same neighbor to test whether her water wells are contaminated. Mosaic has offered to pay to test private wells using a third party lab. Hunter admits she does have concerns about what a lab contracted by Mosaic will find.
“You wonder that whoever is paying the bill is just going to tell you what they want you to hear but we hope it's not that way,” said Hunter. “We hope they'll be straight up with us."
The city of Mulberry meanwhile is responsible for testing the public system. Mulberry City Manager Rick Johnson says he, too, was kept in the dark about the contamination until news broke late last week.
"People are looking to the city right now for answers and at this point we know about as much as the public does," said Johnson, who’s left trying to play catch up.
The city, which normally tests its public wells daily, is now testing four times a day. According to city officials, Mosaic has said a drop in the water's Ph level could be a sign of contamination.
"If any of that material gets into this the Ph level would drop out, so that's how we know we don't have any,” explained Mulberry Public Works Director John Wright. “We're testing the wells to let people know we don't have anything to hide."
To prove how much he believes in the city’s water quality, Wright filled up a water bottle from the tap and took a long sip. "Nothing wrong with it"
In addition to its ramped up testing schedule, the city of mulberry is also sending daily water samples to an independent lab for closer examination.
Meanwhile the sink hole is still open, meaning more contaminated material can flow right into the aquifer. Mosaic has set up a containment well inside the aquifer. They say it's designed to capture any compromised water.
The Floridan Aquifer is a massive underground water system that spans the state and millions rely on it for drinking water.
University of Florida geology professor emeritus Anthony Randazzo says he isn't concerned the radioactive water will reach cities like Tallahassee or even Tampa.
"It is something that's going to effect the local area in and around the plant but it should not be any great concern in terms of impacting the people that live in, say, Hillsborough county.
But for now, he says he'd stick to bottled water in Mulberry.
“If I was living right there I probably would not [drink the water]. Not today anyway."