Tim Ritchie March Against Mosaic

Punta Gorda resident Tim Ritchie is one of the 16 petitioners hoping to stop the state from granting a water discharge permit to Mosaic Fertilizer for its plant in Bartow.

The state has denied a citizen petition seeking to block a water discharge permit for Mosaic Fertilizer’s Bartow plant.

The rejection, however, allows the 16-member group to fix their petition and resubmit, which they have done, said Tim Ritchie, leader of Punta Gorda’s March Against Mosaic.

After waiting two years, Mosaic was two days away from receiving its permit for the Bartow plant last month when petitioners filed a last-minute objection.

“We the Petitioners allege illegal Waste Disposal, Sewage, Toxic Pollution and Radioactive Waste is happening at the Mosaic Clay Settling Areas and the Mosaic Bartow South Phosphogypsum stack, we are alleging that Mosaic is discharging continuously everyday 5 to 10 Million Gallons Daily instead of the estimated 2.5 Million Gallons of acidic radioactive wastewater...” the May 13 petition states to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Petitioners, who are from Charlotte, DeSoto, Lake and Sarasota counties, include a geologist and a biologist/health care worker.

“During the most recent permit cycle, Mosaic Bartow South Phosphogypsum ground water monitoring wells showed Gross Alpha, Ammonia, Sodium, Sulfate, Radium 226+Radium 228, Fluoride above compliance well limits, indicating (the) stack is CONTAMINATING the Surficial and Intermediate aquifers,” the petition reads.

But the administrative magistrate quickly ruled the petition flawed.

“A generalized interest in the environment is legally insufficient to show standing,” the ruling reads for some of the petitioners. Others had standing, the ruling states, because they claimed hardship for their recreational uses and their drinking water.

Petitioners need to explain how a renewed permit for Mosaic will affect their “substantial interests,” FDEP’s general counsel wrote.

“The alleged injury must be real and immediate, rather than hypothetical, conjectural, or speculative.”

In the current petition, George Allen of Port Charlotte wrote: “I am very concerned about Gross Alpha Particles in my Drinking and Bathing Water...I do not feel it is safe to eat any fish caught in the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor because of the Mosaic Phosphate Mining...”

Mosaic has stated repeatedly that it does not discharge “process water” directly into any water body. Environmental laws have banned that. Instead, Mosaic stores its industrial wastewater and other refuse material in towering phosphogypsum stacks on site. It reuses some of the 164 million gallons of the water in the stack for its processing. The permit is for stormwater that falls on those stacks and flows off.

The Bartow stack, however, sprung a leak last fall. Mosaic spent months trying to find the leak and eventually set up a system to collect leaking water and pump it back into the stack.

As for the allegations of radioactivity, state regulators have explained to the public that these alpha particles found in monitoring wells are from environmental failures of the 1990s when there were fewer regulations and Mosaic was not the owner. Mosaic must continue to maintain them. Drinking water is routinely tested for these particles, water authority managers have said.

Phosphorus production is known to produce low-level radioactivity, which is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not currently allow Mosaic to sell its refuse material for road construction. It is allowed in some other countries.

On April 28, the state Department of Environmental Protection sent its notice that it intended to renew a permit under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. Mosaic had applied in June of 2018, submitting hundreds of pages of data. In 2019, hundreds of people turned out for information sessions in Bartow to object to the permit or to ask questions of Mosaic and state regulators.

Mosaic spokeswoman Jackie Barron noted Mosaic is not undertaking new activities, but the new permit includes new requirements for Mosaic.

“The renewal does incorporate more rigorous standards consistent with new state requirements,” she said. Those are requirements to monitor the health of plants and animals in the wetlands around the plant. This would be added to the current requirement to keep pollutant discharges below federal standards.

Residents throughout Southwest Florida including Charlotte County commissioners have raised the specter of the 2016 sinkhole that opened up under a Mosaic gypsum stack near Bartow in Mulberry. Toxic process water — 215 million gallons — plunged into the aquifer. Mosaic said all the water was later removed before it spread. Today, at the Bartow stack, Mosaic said it has added newer technology to provide an early warning system for instabilities.

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