Home U.S. Massive Sinkhole Leaks Radioactive Water Into Florida's Aquifer

Massive Sinkhole Leaks Radioactive Water Into Florida's Aquifer

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A massive sinkhole recently collapsed nearby Mulberry, Florida, draining approximately 215 million gallons of radioactive and contaminated water into Florida’s aquifer. The sinkhole was located directly below a wastewater storage pond used by Mosaic, the largest phosphate fertilizer producer in the world.

There is local outcry in that the event took place three weeks before the local community was notified, despite the fact that this is Florida’s largest and primary aquifer for potable water. The fertilizer company is currently working on pumping out the contaminated water and believes the wastewater is slow moving in the aquifer and has yet to reach public households. Mosaic’s phosphate fertilizer plant was storing its “gypsum stack” containing sulfate, gypsum, sodium, and radioactive phosphogypsum in a pond nearby the plant.

Florida is known for sinkholes, this one however was larger than normal at 45 feet in diameter. The ground collapsed down to the aquifer below, a source of fresh water for most of Florida. Mosaic diverted the wastewater pond but not until 215 million gallons were lost down the sinkhole.

 

Aerial photo of cleanup at the recent Florida sinkhole underneath a wastewater pond. (Credit: Photograph by Jim Damaske/AP)
Aerial photo of cleanup at the recent Florida sinkhole underneath a wastewater pond. (Credit: Photograph by Jim Damaske/AP)

Florida has the most sinkholes of any state due to the dominant rock type, carbonate. Calcium carbonate is formed both biogenically from marine organisms such as coral and inorganically through calcite precipitation. Carbonate rocks are highly useful in your every day life and you likely have witnessed its tendency to dissolve readily. Tums, used for indigestion, are calcium carbonate laced with sugar to help the taste. In the same way Tums readily dissolves in your mouth, carbonate rocks readily dissolve over time when exposed to slightly acidic rainwater.

Most of Florida sits atop a carbonate platform that has, for millions of years, been dissolved through percolation of rainwater and migrating groundwater. This forms karsting, dissolved void spaces in the carbonate rock, to dominate Florida’s bedrock. Eventually, fissures and holes in underground carbonate cannot hold the overlying rock and it collapses, causing a sinkhole.

Incredibly, this is the 3rd major environmental disaster from Mosaic operations and second due to sinkholes. In 1994 a sinkhole formed under one of Mosaic’s wastewater ponds, dumping toxic water into the ground. The other major disaster was in 2004 when Hurricane Frances caused 65 million gallons of wastewater to flow into water near Tampa Bay. The company recently settled a federal EPA lawsuit and agreed to pay $2 billion worth of damages, cleanup costs, and upgrades to infrastructure.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection says the agency is monitoring the site frequently and will provide updates. They note that the wastewater appears to be contained but continual monitoring will determine long-term effects of the spill.

Aerial photo of cleanup at the recent Florida sinkhole underneath a wastewater pond. (Credit: Photograph by Jim Damaske/AP)
Aerial photo of cleanup at the recent Florida sinkhole underneath a wastewater pond. (Credit: Photograph by Jim Damaske/AP)

This article was written by Trevor Nace from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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