The company that kept secret a massive sinkhole that drained a 215 million gallon radioactive pond into an underground aquifer said it didn’t go public with the crisis for three weeks because it found “no risk to the public.”
Mosaic, a phosphate mining company, told reporters Friday that a worker first noticed the sinkhole near the end of August.
Video from Action Air One Friday afternoon showed a practical waterfall down into an endless hole that stretched roughly 45 feet wide, according to Mosaic’s measurements.
The water is deemed radioactive because it’s the byproduct of manufacturing fertilizer. The hole opened up at the bottom of the pond, draining nearly every drop of it.
“The first word that comes to mind when you hear radioactive is cancer,” said Melanie Wood, who lives a few miles away and has a well 300 feet deep.
She vows not to touch the well water until Mosaic can prove to her it’s safe.
“Well I’m concerned. Are my kids going to get sick? Am I going to get sick? My neighbor’s pregnant, what’s this going to do to her baby?” She said.
On Friday, a Mosaic spokesperson tried to temper neighborhood nerves.
“If you had kids who lived three miles away from here would you let them drink the water?” Asked ABC Action News Reporter Ryan Raiche.
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“Yes I would,” said David Jellerson, an Environmental Engineer with Mosaic. “The water is safe to drink and it will remain safe to drink.”
Jellerson suspects the hole stretches all the way down to the aquifer, some 300 feet below the surface.
Mosaic activated a so-called recovery well that is designed to catch the contaminated water, and Jellerson said it has a network of monitoring stations that so far report the toxic water is staying in the immediate area.
“We are ensuring that are recovery is capturing it all,” he said.
But try telling that to the people in the rural community on the Polk-Hillsborough County line.
“I’m on a well that’s 355 feet deep,” said Farrell Wood. “I still usually drink bottled water and at this point, I’ll continue to do that.”
Although Mosaic didn’t go public with the sinkhole until Thursday, the DEP said the company did notify the state back in August when it happened.
Since it’s unsafe to send a person to the edge of the sinkhole, the company plans to build a rig and drop down a piece of equipment sometime next week to map the cavern.
The DEP said it’s doing routine visits to make sure Mosaic is handling the response “appropriately.”