DEP offical suggests gyp stacks aren't compatible with sinkhole-prone Florida

Posted at 7:53 PM, Nov 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-17 22:02:54-05

E-mails between Florida Department of Environmental Protection employees and obtained by ABC Action News seem to show concern for future sinkholes opening under gyp stacks in this state.

The e-mails were part of a public records request made regarding the toxic sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales plant in Mulberry.

In the more than 15-hundred pages of e-mails released, there are at least a few that raise more questions than answers.

In one e-mail, a DEP official told his colleagues this is the fourth or fifth sinkhole within a gyp stack in his time and “I’m thinking gyp stacks aren’t entirely compatible with Florida geology.”

When contacted by ABC Action News, the agency seems to be walking back that remark, saying in a statement “DEP does not believe gyp stacks are a concern given that DEP has rules and permit requirements in place to evaluate geology.”

Mosaic neighbors don’t buy it.

“Either make them straighten it up or shut the place down because there’s a bunch of people in the community that are scared to death of the water,” said Ted Jones, who lives two miles from the plant.

Jones is one of more than a thousand neighbors demanding the company keep testing their private wells, but in the back of their mind they’re anxious about what happens next.

Gyp stacks are the necessary evil in making fertilizer. It’s the slurry-like by-product from phosphate during the fertilizer manufacturing process.

Companies stack it high in a lined pond. When the sinkhole opened up over the summer, the gypsum and radioactive water disappeared like pulling the plug in a bathtub.

There’s no direct evidence to explain why this particular sinkhole opened up, but because there’s a history of sinkholes at this site, people nearby feel it’s just a matter of time until it happens again.

In fact, in another e-mail the DEP told a nearby contractor to prove the geology for his project under construction “differs from Mosaic’s” to prevent another sinkhole.

It’s yet another sign the agency is concerned bout that land.

Late Thursday, the DEP insisted that’s standard procedure.

“The best thing they can do is keep running the plant. It really won’t help you very much if they just stop,” said Dr. Brian Birky with the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute.

Birky  hopes this crisis — and the DEP’s admission in that e-mail — will start a discussion about what’s next for the industry.

“I think it’s a good conversation to have. What is the future going forward? Where does this industry fit?” He said.

Technology is currently being developed in the area to cut out gypsum all together, but it’s still in the testing phase.

For now, the world is stuck with gyp stacks because the world depends on fertilizer. But try convincing people nearby that it’s worth it.

Mosaic's Statement:

Florida’s geology is something all businesses in the state need to deal with. Our industry is no different. But what is different is before we can construct a gypstack, our plans must undergo detailed review and approval by state and local authorities each and every time, and that process includes an evaluation of the proposed gypstack’s footprint.

Anyone who questions the necessity of the Florida phosphate industry must consider that there is no substitute for phosphate to feed our nation.  Beyond that fact, shuttering this industry in central Florida will lead to the loss of jobs for thousands of Floridians where fertilizer production is a leading economic driver.