Graham Presses DEP For Answers As Central Fla. Residents File Suit Over Phosphate Sinkhole

Sep 23, 2016

A massive sinkhole at the Mosaic Phosphate Plant in Mulberry, Florida opened up August 27th. More than 215 million gallons of contaminated wastewater are thought to have seeped into the ground.
Credit Jim Damaske / Tampa Bay Times via the Associated Press

North Florida Congresswoman Gwen Graham wants to know why it took the state’s environmental protection agency several weeks to notify residents near a Central Florida phosphate mine of potential water contamination. A sinkhole opened up near the Mosaic phosphate plant last month dumping more than 200 million gallons of polluted water into the Floridan aquifer.

According to a timeline released Friday, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says it was notified about the sinkhole on the August 28th and began an investigation next day. But Congresswoman Gwen Graham is asking the Florida Department of Environmental Protection why it took the state nearly a month to notify residents in and around Lakeland. Governor Rick Scott tip-toed around a question about whether the company should have notified residents sooner.

“We need to make sure and DEP is working to make sure everybody knows what’s going on. If others want to have their wells tested, DEP is going to work with them to make sure that happens. They’re going to do a review to find out what happened and if anyone did anything wrong they’re going to be held accountable.” 

DEP Secretary John Steverson issued a response to Graham's records request Friday.

""Contrary to the Representative’s claim that we have not answered her question, DEP yesterday released a detailed timeline of all of the agency’s actions including that beginning on Sept. 19, in coordination with Mosaic, DEP began reaching out to nearby homeowners for well testing," the Secretary said in a statement. "It is important to know that Deputy Secretary Gary Clark is over the department’s Land and Recreation functions and does not, in any way, oversee the department’s regulatory functions, especially in regard to water quality. DEP is absolutely committed to the safety of all Floridians and our environment and our staff was on-site to investigate the issues at Mosaic’s New Wales facility less than 24 hours after being notified."

The state says it’s monitoring the situation and no drinking water contamination has been found. Meanwhile, radio station WMFE in Orlando reports a federal lawsuit has been filed by residents against the Mosaic Phosphate Company, which owns the plant. The area sits atop the Floridan aquifer, which supplies drinking water to the majority of the state.  

Orlando TV Station WFLA first reported the sinkhole's appearance on Sept. 15th.