Sinkhole drains 215 million gallons of contaminated water into Floridan aquifer

(WFLA Photo)
(WFLA Photo)

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A massive sinkhole on top of a Mosaic gypsum stack near Mulberry allowed millions of gallons of contaminated water to flow into the Floridan Aquifer.

Eagle 8 flew over the huge chasm in the earth and spotted a cascading waterfall in the middle of what looks like a moonscape. The is happening in the New Wales plant off Highway 640, south of Mulberry.

The sinkhole opened up almost three weeks ago. Since then, about 215 million gallons of contaminated water have drained into the aquifer. The sinkhole is about 40 feet across. It’s depth is unknown.

It sits right in the middle of a massive gypsum stack. Gypsum comes out of the plant after the company produces phosphate fertilizers and animal feed ingredients.

On Aug. 27 workers monitoring water levels discovered a drop. “When it was first noticed, we installed pumping systems to move water out of that compartment on the gypsum stack, to recover the water,” said David Jellerson, Mosaic’s director of environment and phosphate projects.

The water is contaminated with phosphoric acid and is slightly radioactive. Not all of it is being caught by pumps.

You wouldn’t want to drink it, but so far, Mosaic engineers don’t believe the water is making it to private wells.

Near the gypsum stack, Mosaic has monitoring wells. “We’re confident that the wells we started up are capturing that water pulling it back,” Jellerosn said.

He said the closest homeowners, who are all several miles away, can still use their water without worry, but if they have concerns, Mosaic will test it.

So far, the company maintains, everything is OK.

“We continue to monitor the stack, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to insure that there’s no safety or environmental concern on top of the gypsum stack itself, as well as around the rest of the property,” plant assistant general manager Chris Hagemo said.

It took a week for Mosaic workers to figure out where all that water was going.

The next step is to repair the hole in the gypsum stack and continue monitoring to make sure the contaminated water is not getting into drinking water. Representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection are at the plant and have been here every day since the sinkhole was discovered.

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