Neighbors worry water isn't safe after Mosaic leak

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Update from the City of Lakeland:

After multiple questions from residents regarding the possible contamination of the ground water supply, the Director of Water Utilities for the City of Lakeland issued a statement today. Robert Conner said, "Lakeland's water comes from sources both distant and hydraulically upstream from the sinkhole. Our wells are on the north side of town near I-4." 

Separately, the Mosaic Company is encouraging residents with questions on water quality or water testing to call (813) 500-6575.  

Mosaic began trying to assure the community Friday that there's little to worry about after 215 million gallons of potentially radioactive water leaked into the Floridan aquifer after a sinkhole opened up three weeks ago at the company's phosphate mining facility in Mulberry.

David Jellerson said workers noticed the water level in one of the ponds dropping on August 27. About a week later, experts confirmed a sinkhole, measuring about 45-feet wide, had opened beneath a gypsum stack, which is a toxic fertilizer byproduct. It's unclear how deep the sinkhole is, but it likely reaches the aquifer.

By that time, more than 200 million gallons of contaminated water had drained into the Florida aquifer.

"The biggest concern is to make sure we can capture the water so none of it gets off site," Jellerson told FOX 13.

According to Mosaic, the company immediately notified the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Jellerson said the contaminated water has been contained to the Mosaic property and has not drained into any drinking water; the water is being pumped out of the aquifer and into wells at Mosaic.

"We won't allow any of the contaminants to migrate beyond the site," Jellerson said, adding the company is also offering to test water for concerned residents. "If anyone has those concerns, they can contact us. We've set up a web page. There's some contact numbers in there and we will go out and sample their well to help give them assurance that it's not contaminated."

This is not the first time a sinkhole has opened up at this phosphate plant. The same exact thing happened just over 20 years ago, in 1994.

Back then, the plant was owned by IMC Agrico. It cost nearly $7 million and just under a year to fix.
The hole was filled by pumping it full of concrete. None of the contaminated water leaked into nearby wells.

Meanwhile, Mosaic is getting a lot of criticism from the community for the delay in notifying the public; it took three weeks for neighbors to find out about the issue.

"I was like, 'holy cow. Should we really be concerned about this? I have kids. I have my pets,'" said Christine Vining, who lives down the road from the facility. "Why aren't they telling us themselves? Why are we having the news come and tell us?"

Other neighbors have similar questions.

"We're a mile and a half away, so that's just our concern: is our water safe to drink? Is it safe to brush to teeth in? Is it safe to cook in?" said Melanea Wood. "It's very upsetting, especially when you have three children; it's health risks."

Jellerson said the community wasn't immediately notified because "the contamination has not migrated beyond the immediate area of the water-loss incident, so there [was] not an urgency."

Sodium and sulfate are the contaminants of concern, along with phosphoric acid. Mosaic said, so far, none of those contaminants have shown up in the monitoring wells it has around the plant.

Mosaic said it will continue to monitor and re-mediate the groundwater beneath the sinkhole until DEP gives the all-clear.