BARTOW — In less than one year’s time, there have been three incidents at Mosaic's Bartow facility that were serious enough to mandate staff to alert government regulators, including one incident that occurred as recently as last month.
Based on Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) public records, cracks were discovered on the south and east walls of the active Mosaic Bartow facility gypstack, located south of State Road 60 and west of Bartow, in December of 2018.
A gypstack, generally speaking, is a man-made mountain of radioactive phosphate mining waste that, on the mountain peak, contains a body of slightly acidic mining wastewater.
In Polk County, gypstacks are located in Bartow, Mulberry and Fort Meade.
All active gypstacks and their associated containment ponds are required by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be lined with a synthetic liner to prevent pollution.
Mosaic staff reported the incident to the Florida Phosphate Management Program Division of Water Resource Management and, in February, a second set of cracks was discovered, close to where the initial cracks had already been repaired.
In a follow-up report on April 11, Phosphate Management Program Environmental Specialist Gordon D'Abreu sent Mosaic a list of questions.
Two weeks later, Mosaic staff responded, mostly relying on a report dated April 23 and written by Ardaman & Associates Senior Project Manager Rafeek Nashed.
“The February 2019 crack, which is considered as an extension of the repaired section of the crack, is approximately 2 to 3-inches wide and 4 to 6 feet deep,” Nashed wrote. “The February 2019 crack remains dry within the observed depth of the crack, mostly because of the installed horizontal drain located within the southeastern corner at approximate elevation 370 ft.”
The third incident at the Mosaic Bartow facility within the past year took place last month.
According to FDEP documents dated Oct. 23, a Mosaic field inspector discovered liquid seeping near the southwest base of the Bartow facility gypstack.
In response, Mosaic staff mobilized heavy equipment and personnel to contain and recover the seepage, and they began staging pumps to intercept the seepage water and convey it back into a lined containment pond area.
An earth dam was installed to prevent any further wastewater from reaching nearby, low-lying marshland. Pumps were set up in the event that the dams broke.
The liquid is still seeping, according to Mosaic Phosphates Public and Government Affairs Director Callie Neslund and Mosaic Director of EHS Services for Phosphates Pat Kane, who gave the Board of Polk County Commissioners an update on the situation Nov. 15.
“Based on continuing seepage, initially discovered, reported and inspected by (FDEP) on October 23rd in the vicinity of the southwest corner of the South Phosphogypsum stack at Bartow, and the investigation data collected to date, there now is reason to suspect that liner damage may exist,” Farrell wrote Nov. 8 in a “Critical Condition Report” to the EPA.
FDEP Communications Director Dee Ann Miller said the latest incident does not appear critical.
“The Department’s initial inspections confirmed that the seepage itself was not a critical condition, but that the source of the seepage required investigation and repairs once the source was identified,” Miller said. “Subsequent investigation provided water quality and hydrologic information that suggested that liner damage may be the source of seepage, so on Nov. 8, Mosaic submitted a critical condition report to FDEP and EPA as required by rule and their existing Consent Decree.”
Miller further said, “Inspections and data submitted indicate that the seepage is contained onsite and has not impacted water resources. There are NO signs of any failure of the geology underlying the gypstack system.”
After EPA lawyers sued Mosaic over pollution related concerns several years ago, lawyers representing the federal government and Mosaic lawyers settled their case concerns Sept. 29, 2015.
Part of that final consent degree included a requirement that Mosaic staff alert the EPA of any subsequent concerns.
Those incidents have been reported to the Florida Phosphate Management Program Division of Water Resource Management.
Mosaic's Bartow facility is involved in the production of phosphate fertilizers, electrical power and fluoridation ingredients, according to the corporate website. Finished products include Diammonium Phosphate (DAP), Monoammonium Phosphate (MAP), MicroEssentials and Fluorosilicic Acid (FSA).
Mosaic has a Southwest Florida Water Management District water-use permit allowing them to remove around 70 million gallons of water out of the Upper Floridan Aquifer every day. Recently, Mosaic staff submitted an application for a water-use permit reauthorizing them to discharge 2.689 million gallons of mining water into the Peace River Basin.
Mosaic is consistently a top taxpayer in the county, annually paying around $11 million in county taxes, and the corporation employs around 1,300 area residents.
Recently, Mosaic reported a net loss of $44 million for the third quarter of 2019, and adjusted net earnings of $29 million, after notable items.
Twice since 1994, sinkholes have opened up under gypstacks in Mulberry, dumping millions of gallons of mining wastewater into the UFA.