-- A massive sinkhole at a fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Florida, has caused about 215 million gallons of radioactive water to drain down into the Floridian aquifer system, according to ABC affiliate WFTS.
The aquifer system supplies drinking water to millions of Florida residents, according to the St. Johns Water Management District's website. Additionally, water that escapes from the aquifers create springs used for recreational activities like snorkeling and swimming.
The fertilizer company Mosaic wrote on its website that it discovered a sinkhole 45 feet in diameter at its New Wales facility after noticing water levels had dropped in a stack of radioactive waste product known as phosphogypsum in late August.
Phosphogypsum is a waste product resulting from the processing of phosphate to make fertilizers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The byproduct is often stored by industrial plants in mountainous piles known as phosphogysum stacks.
"Based on the nature of the water loss and what we've learned so far," the sinkhole damaged the liner system at the base of a phosophogypsum stack, Mosaic said on Thursday. "The pond on top of the cell drained as a result" and "some seepage continues."
The fertilizer company added that it believes the sinkhole reached the Floridian aquifer, and WFTS reported that the company told the station about 215 million gallons of contaminated water used to process fertilizer drained had into the hole.
After learning of the water loss, "Mosaic immediately implemented additional and extensive groundwater monitoring and sampling regimens and has found no offsite impacts," the company said. Additionally, Mosaic "began pumping water out of the west cell" of the affected phosphogypsum stack "into an alternative holding area on site to reduce the amount of drainage."
The company has also "begun the process of recovering the water" drained through the sinkhole "by pumping through onsite production wells," it said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) "confirmed that Mosaic immediately took steps to investigate and initiate corrective action," according to FDEP Deputy Press Secretary Dee Ann Miller.
Miller added that along with reviewing daily reports, the FDEP "is performing frequent site visits to make sure timely and appropriate response continues in order to safeguard public health and the environment."