Florida Sinkhole Leaks Over 200 Million Gallons of Radioactive Waste Into State’s Drinking Water

Sep 20, 2016 05:02 AM EDT

A massive sinkhole has leaked contaminated water into Florida's underground source of drinking water.

The huge sinkhole of about 45 feet in diameter opened up beneath a fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Florida, damaging the stack where radioactive wastewater was stored. The water was said to contain phosphogypsum, which is produced from processing phosphate to make fertilizers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the waste byproduct is usually stored in phosphogypsum stacks in industrial plants.

"Based on the nature of the water loss, and on what we've learned so far, a sinkhole formed under the west cell that we believe damaged the liner system at the base of the stack," Mosaic, the company that owns the fertilizer plant, said in a statement published on their website. "The pond on top of the cell drained as a result, although some seepage continues."

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Mosaic, which is also one of the world's largest fertilizer manufacturers, said that they have reported the incident to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), EPA and Polk County. A Mosaic representative also told BBC that the leak causes no harm to the public as groundwater flows very slowly.

Aquifers are huge underground systems of porous rocks that contain water and allow it to flow through holes within the rocks. Florida's aquifer, which is a major source of drinking water in the state, is one of the highest producing aquifers in the world, underlying all of Florida and extending into southern Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. The aquifer also supplies water to thousands of domestic, industrial and irrigation wells all over Florida.

"Along with reviewing daily reports, DEP is performing frequent site visits to make sure timely and appropriate response continues in order to safeguard public health and the environment," Dee Ann Miller, spokeswoman for FDEP, said in an email to the Associated Press.

"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."

Just recently, Mosaic settled a huge federal environment lawsuit with EPA, in which the company agreed to a $2-billion worth of fixes, improvements and clean-ups in its plants, Orlando Sentinel reports.

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