200 Million Down the Sinkhole Drain

in environment •  2 years ago

Let's talk about the sinkhole in Florida, shall we? Last Thursday, Mosaic Fertilizer announced that a 45-foot-wide sinkhole had formed under one of the waste storage stacks at its phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Florida. Unfortunately, along with the dirt went 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater into the Floridan aquifer. Eeeek.

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Image: AP

The worst part, however, was that the sinkhole had formed at least twenty days prior. Apparently they were super busy and didn't really have any time to tell anyone. Not to worry, though, the guy from Mosaic said the massive spill won't hurt anyone.

Right.

Almost 90% of the drinking water in florida comes from the aquifer—which is a fancy word for underground water. Now, I am not saying that everyone in Florida should be scared that their water is contaminated with Mosaic’s wastewater, but the people near the facility are very much at risk. The wastewater that fell through the sinkhole is loaded with contaminants, and with over 215 million gallons, there is certainly enough to go around.

Gypsum and the Production of Phosphoric Acid

As I mentioned, the facility that it came from is a phosphate fertilizer manufacturing plant that produces over 4.8 million tons of phosphate fertilizer and animal feed ingredients each year. It is also the largest fertilizer manufacturing facility in the world. In order to make its phosphate fertilizer, Mosaic requires lots and lots of phosphoric acid, which it happens to make in-house.

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Image Source

Phosphoric acid is produced at the plant by mixing ground phosphate rock with water (slurried) and combining it with sulfuric acid. Calcium sulfate, commonly referred to as phosphogypsum or gypsum, is the byproduct remaining after this process. Gypsum contains a high concentration of radium, uranium, and other uranium decay products which, as you probably know, is radioactive. Like the Imagine Dragons song. Plus, it also contains trace metals in concentrations which the EPA believes pose a potential hazard to human health and the environment. Metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, zinc, antimony, iron, and copper. For every ton of phosphoric acid made, approximately 5 tons of gypsum is produced.

Once the phosphoric acid is made, the gypsum is pumped into an open storage area called a gypsum stack or gypstack. These stacks are typically shaped like a pyramid with wastewater sitting on top. And they are huge. So big in fact that you can see them from outer space.

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Gypstacks and Wastewater Ponds at Mosaic’s Plant

The stack at Mosaic’s plant occupied over 340 acres, with walls that stood 200 feet high. Gypsum stacks keep getting higher over time, actually, because plant owners use the sludge to keep building them up so they can fit more wastewater. Say, 215 million gallons worth. The wastewater that was released into the sinkhole in Florida last week contained everything from spent sulfuric acid, wastewater generated from cleaning phosphoric acid production pipes and equipment, to acidic cooling water with high concentrations of phosphorus and fluoride, and other contaminants that settle in the gypstack. Sound harmless, right?

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Side of a Gypstack. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, the sinkole was not the first at Mosaic’s plant. In 1994, a sinkhole formed underneath another gypstack, releasing an estimated 4 to 6 million cubic feet of gypsum and waste water into the aquifer. And again in 2004, another sinkhole developed underneath a gypstack. Yes, sinkholes happen in Florida, but if you are going to be in the business of storing millions of gallons of toxic waste, you better do your homework and make sure you don’t build your pit on unstable ground.

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Excellent description, Many Thanks

It's only a matter of time before we begin to pollute our world with radioactive waste that takes millions of years to decay.
Global warming... na
Radioactive iosotopes is the future of earth, no need to even speculate anymore

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We will all be glowing in the dark in no time!

This is a very interesting and quite tragic article. I shall pray for the people in Florida. That is one of the more terrible things that can happen as residents and tourists there who are unaware of this incident will be at risk for consuming and even making contact with such contaminated radioactive wastewater. Countless lives will be put in danger which could have been prevented. Truly unfortunate and saddening. Thanks for sharing and bringing this to our attention. Very important information about what kind of methods and tactics these companies are using that have had previous issues similarly in the past. Not sure if there is a way to filter and cleanse such waste water or where else they could put more of the ongoing creation of wastewater due to the production of their phosphoric acid, but I hope this can be fixed but with such an extremely large amount of contaminated water dispersed, the solution will be a long, and enduring process. I hope for the best for all the future victims who unknowingly come into contact and consume this poison headed for their home faucets and businesses. Upvoted

This sure is interesting
Floridas big secret

Not to worry, though, the guy from Mosaic said the massive spill won't hurt anyone.

Sounds "great"

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Haha, super reassuring!

wonderful article !!!

It just got harder and harder to read your article. Don't get me wrong, it's extremely well written, but the content just kept hitting me in the heart. How can they get away with this? Is anyone actively testing? Can we say class action?

So awful.

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The hope is that they won't be able too! The problem is that a lot of contamination goes undetected for a while.

Wow. This is terrible. I had no idea that fertilizer manufacturing created radioactive waste! Interesting! Is there anything that can be done for cleanup?

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It is pretty scary! There are a few things that can be done to clean it, which is good. One is the use of reclamation wells that pull the wastewater out and another is a filtering system. Really, it's just important for them to do something before contaminated water is consumed for long periods of time.

Great information. Wonder why the MSM is not picking this story up? Hmmm....

Oh, the Zika spraying, killing all the bees that are needed for flower pollination, is getting all the National Attention.