Fresh take: Should Mosaic spill be big concern to us?

OUR POSITION: A leak at the Mosaic Company's Bartow operation is troubling.

In October, a routine inspection of a phosphate manufacturing operation in Bartow found a pool of water where no water should be. It was determined to be seepage at an area where a gypstack meets cooling ponds and ditches in the complex campus operation.

Mosaic reported the incident, as required. Then it went about working to find the problem and fix it.

It's still not fixed.

Mosaic says that is not a big deal.

"It is a stable situation," said Callie Neslund, director of public and government affairs for the company. "The water stays on our grounds. We just do not know where it is coming from."

Neslund said the process of locating and fixing the leak is challenging.

"We have the best engineers in the world working on this along with our technical team," she said. "It is not uncommon to not find the leak. It is just complex."

At that, Neslund reiterated the water — a leak of 80-100 gallons a minute — is being collected and pumped back into the gypstack.

Leaks are not unheard of in the plastic-lined holding areas. Normally, however, the source is quickly discovered and fixed with grout.

In a Sun story by Betsy Calvert, Mosaic's Jackie Barron said the company has initiated a dye test and is taking samples of the water to try to pinpoint where the water is coming from.

"We believe that will help us narrow down the source ..." Barron said, "and once we do that, we will finalize a repair plan."

We have no reason to believe Mosaic people would mislead us or the public. Mosaic, as we've noted before, does not operate as phosphate mining companies did decades ago when mining was less regulated and few knew what actually went on at plant and mining sites.

But, it speaks to the complexity of phosphate mining that the "best" engineers in the world have not been able to find a leak after more than two months. If a leak is that difficult to pin down, what does that say about a huge operation that one day could be ongoing within a stone's throw of Peace River?

We certainly can understand the concerns and arguments made by environmentalists and DeSoto County residents who some day will be Mosaic's neighbors.

Phosphate production generates low levels of radioactive matter in its waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The waste is stored in the gypstacks, which rise above the ground like mini-mountains.

FDEP and Mosaic must monitor those stacks and any runoff into streams or wetlands that funnel drinking water to DeSoto, Charlotte and parts of Sarasota counties. The monitoring requirements were heightened a decade or so ago after Charlotte County government and Mosaic butted heads in legal arguments that cost both sides millions of dollars.

Mosaic, which is currently awaiting the state's approval of renewing its water runoff permit, surely wants to get this leak repaired sooner than later. The problems it is having locating and repairing the problem are a public relations misstep it can't afford as it awaits approval.

We trust Mosaic. But phosphate mining is a business filled with potential for mishaps that Florida's fragile environment cannot afford. Leaks, spills and overflows should not be considered business as usual.


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