They rewrote their petition and won approval this week for a hearing to fight against fertilizer giant Mosaic Co.

“I’m thrilled,” said March Against Mosaic leader Tim Ritchie of Punta Gorda. Mosaic is the lead petitioner of an 11-person group, mostly from Charlotte County.

The state rejected the first draft saying some of the petitioners did not show how they faced actual harm, and only speculated about environmental damage. The petitioners also needed to state how they heard of Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s decision in May to approve Mosaic’s water discharge permit. Petitioners had two weeks to respond before the permit went into effect.

No date has been set yet for a hearing. The group will need to find an attorney, Ritchie said, and they want Charlotte County commissioners to speak.

Mosaic’s lawyers were notified.

“We believe in the value of public input which promotes inclusiveness and transparency,” Mosaic spokeswoman Jackie Barron told the Sun.

The petition is 153 pages of pollutant charts and discharge descriptions derived in part from Mosaic’s original application for a permit renewal at its Bartow plant. They submitted that more than two years ago.

While they drew on Mosaic’s massive application, the petitioners state they do not believe Mosaic’s claims. One of those is the claim that it does not discharge its manufacturing fluids into nearby streams or into the aquifer.

“We allege that Mosaic Fertilizer LLC is discharging excessively beyond the Total Maximum Daily Load, in addition, they are not using Best Management Practices concerning the health and safety of the citizens drinking and bathing in Charlotte, DeSoto, Sarasota and Manatee Counties.”

The Bartow plant is some 80 miles from Punta Gorda, but the upper reaches of the Peace River flow east of the plant on its way south through DeSoto County into Charlotte Harbor. The petition also notes that Hillsborough Bay to the west is in the line of pollution.

“Every day I worry about a possible Mosaic Bartow South Gypsum stack sinkhole Environmental Disaster like the 2016 Mosaic New Wales Sinkhole that an estimated 215 million gallons of Mosaic acidic radioactive wastewater burned through the Florida limestone and discharged for 18-19 days before Mosaic Fertilizer notified the public,” Ritchie wrote. He was describing an event that has caused Charlotte County commissioners to ask for assurances that a sinkhole under a gypstack cannot happen again.

“Yes my life is in imminent danger,” Ritchie went on. “(T)he potential for another Mosaic environmental disaster is very real. Mosaic should not be allowed to stack on top anymore Phosphogypsum radioactive waste. These radioactive mountains should not be allowed to become 500 feet tall.”

Current environmental laws require the manufacturer to reuse what it calls process water and store it in giant phosphogypsum stacks on site. The permit is really for stormwater runoff of the gypstacks and other parts of the plant site, Mosaic says.

Pollutant charts from Mosaic show elevated radioactivity or alpha particles in some of the monitoring wells it inherited from prior fertilizer manufacturers at the Bartow site. State regulators said in 2019 that they were working to evaluate whether that was historic pollution or new. Phosphorus is known to have low levels of radiation which intensifies in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That is why the EPA does not allow these manufacturers to sell their industrial waste material for road construction, as do other countries.

Petitioners expressed their fear of this radioactivity reaching them in their homes near the Peace River. The regional water authority that draws from the river, however, has not reported elevated radioactivity.

The petition also alleges that the plant’s discharge increases harmful algae blooms such as cyanobacteria in the river.

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