POLK COUNTY, Fla. — The leak at the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack in Manatee County has a lot of people asking if it could happen again elsewhere. There are 25 gypsum stacks that exist in Florida.
“These massive piles of hazardous waste that sit in perpetuity on our landscape. They can be hundreds of acres wide, hundreds of feet tall. And they are made out of phosphogypsum, which is the radioactive waste that is created in making phosphoric acid, which is principally used in fertilizer,” explained Jaclyn Lopez, Florida Director of the Center for Biological Diversity.
At least a dozen of them are in Polk County, including the largest storage facility in the state, the 1,147-acre New Wales gypstack, which is owned by the Mosaic Company.
In 2016, a sinkhole at the New Wales stack, caused more than 200 million gallons of contaminated water to spill into the Floridan aquifer.
“Because of the sinkhole events, that led to additional regulations for the permitting of gypstacks,” said Marian Ryan, Conservation Chair of Sierra Club in Winter Haven.
We asked Mosiac what they’re doing to prevent a major breach of their gypstacks.
In an email, they tell ABC Action News Mosiac gypstacks are designed and operated under modern standards. And the Piney Point gypstacks were constructed before modern regulations were in effect.
They said their operations consume process water, which supports maintaining water volumes at appropriate levels and each stack is inspected daily.
“The expansion of the New South Wales south stack, they have already installed microseismic detection instruments that are going to be used to be able to get a good early warning that there may be sinkholes forming underneath the stacks,” Ryan said.
Even with the newer techniques in place, environmental organizations are urging the state to take a stronger role in regulating gypstacks and to put an end to further phosphogypsum production.
“We all need to share Florida together, and that means the humans, the plants the animals, and we all need space to roam and not be under a constant threat of some kind of environmental catastrophe,” Lopez said.