Florida Governor Rick Scott took a helicopter tour of the massive sinkhole on the property of Mosaic Company in eastern Polk County Tuesday; but a nearby resident says her family is sick and her well water has not yet been tested by Mosaic after the sinkhole dumped contaminated water into the aquifer.
A sinkhole formed under a gypsum stack at the site of Mosaic’s phosphate manufacturing plant near Mulberry about a month ago, sucking more than 200 million gallons of polluted water into the aquifer. But the public wasn’t notified for weeks, even as the company tried to pump the contaminated water out.
Louella Phillips has a well and lives about three miles east of the sinkhole. She said she first noticed her water was bad when her daughter took a bath. It was after the sinkhole formed August 27 but before residents were notified about it.
“A couple of weeks before the sinkhole was announced, my 8-year old daughter was in the bathtub–she called me in there–said: “Mama Lou, look at the water.” I looked at the water, I thought she did her business in it, she’s 8-years old. Then I thought it was rust, but, it wasn’t. I don’t know what it was.
“I don’t know if I’ve hurt her. We drank it for two to three weeks before they ever announced it. We took baths in it, we washed our clothes in it. All three kids have been sick, ever since.”
Five generations of Phillips’ family have lived in the home since 1956.
“Before I was notified. Because, I didn’t even know it ’til 3-weeks later and I’m like ‘Oh, my God! What if that’s what she took a bath in?’ They’re trying to tell me she didn’t, but, how do I know? There’s a ripple effect. When a stone hits a tub of water, there’s a ripple effect. Whether it flows this way or that way, there’s a ripple effect. Doesn’t matter how deep my water is. It passes through my water. My water comes from somewhere. My neighbors are actually at 350 (feet).
“She called me in there and she said: “Look at this.” I’m gonna tell you what it looked like. It was like a brownish color and it had this brown sediment in the bottom–real soft–I don’t know what it was. She’s been itching ever since. She broke out on her stomach. She was actually standing up in it, when she told me about it.
“But, because I was not notified, I thought it was rust in my water and I allowed my children to take a bath in that for 3 more days, until it finally cleared up. I’ve allowed my children to drink it, the whole time. The whole time, until it was announced. The minute it was announced and I found out that Mosaic was furnishing bottled water, that’s when I told them to stick to bottled water and they haven’t been in it since.
“But, at the same time when I tell Mosaic I’m taking a bath in this, I need a filtering system, I need something, they won’t give it to me. So, here goes people, I’m taking a bath in bottled water. When I told them that, instead of bringing me the gallons, they started bringing me the bottles. So, now I dump bottles. But, I’ll call them every day if I have to.
“It’s bad enough I’m breathing it. It’s bad enough they’re breathing it. I can’t even trust my kids to walk in a mud puddle in the yard anymore and I’ve lived here for 60-years. Had I known, no-they’d have never taken a bath in that–never!”
Governor Scott toured the sinkhole location with representatives from Mosaic, the Environmental Protection Agency and the head of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Afterward, he told media that residents should have been notified sooner, which is why yesterday Scott issued an order to make polluters notify the media and public within 24 hours.
“We clearly have a law, with regard to public notification, that didn’t make sense; there’s no common sense in this. When we have pollution, whether it’s a company, whether it’s the city, whether it’s the county, we have to notify people and it’s the right thing to do. That’s why I directed the DEP, Department of Environmental Protection, to do an emergency rule, where we’ll have prompt notification–24 hours–when there’s pollution. The public will know, local government will know, basically the media will know when there’s pollution, so we can all react to it and we’re all working off of similar information.
“On top of that, I will go through and work next session, to get this codified into law and also increase the penalties. The penalties need to be severely strengthened. The penalties are just not strong enough right now.
“This will apply to companies, it will apply to cities, it will apply to county governments.”
Here’s how Governor Scott described the sinkhole:
“Here’s what they said– I’ll tell you what it looks like and then let’s hear what they said. It looks like, so, the way it was explained to me: there’s these layers, OK? They have this, I guess this polyurethane layer that’s supposed to hold… [woman says: “it’s a liner”]. Yeah, a liner, that’s supposed to hold–and so he said that was breached. It’s just like it’s–it’s like a– they think it’s a total of possibly– and the biggest is– maximum is 45 feet, which is 15 yards, I guess or about 15 yards wide, but, what you see is it’s just a– you know if you’ve ever been to the beach where you see water just draining into the sand. That’s what it looks like. It looks like it’s just all messed up.
“But, you can see seepage, they explained to me that they’ll continue to seep–because they’ve pumped out all the water they could. The gypsum that surrounds it has moisture in that, so that’ll continue to have some seepage there and then if it rains, they’ll have some others.
“The other thing they explained, which was interesting is, the flow where the water– but, what they’re doing is, they’ve got a lot of wells all around here to test, but, they’re also adding more wells around, just to make sure that they can continue to test. They said they’re about 2.5 miles away from a property– you know, their closest property where the water would flow. But, they also have wells on the opposite– you know, if their wrong, you know, they got wells over there, too.”
Mosaic says it has started to see elevated pollution levels at a well that is pumping water out of the aquifer to make sure the sinkhole spill isn’t spreading. The fertilizer company says that’s evidence the recovery well is working. Mosaic also says the sinkhole is probably even deeper than the 300 feet originally thought.
Here’s video of resident Louella Phillips:
Here’s video of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s media statement:
Video of David Jellerson, Mosaic’s senior director of environment and phosphate projects:
Listen to the segment of WMNF’s MidPoint Monday on Scott’s new rule here:
The press release is below:
GOV. SCOTT: I AM DIRECTING IMMEDIATE CHANGE TO PUBLIC NOTIFICATION LAWS FOLLOWING POLLUTION INCIDENTS
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, following the sewage spill in Pinellas County and the sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales facility, Governor Scott is directing Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Jon Steverson to issue an emergency rule that establishes new requirements for public notification of pollution incidents to take effect immediately. This emergency rule will ensure the public, local governments and DEP are notified within 24 hours by all responsible parties following a pollution incident.
Governor Scott will also propose legislation during the next legislative session to ensure the public is kept informed of incidents of pollution that may cause a threat to public health and to Florida’s air and water resources. This legislation will amend current law which only requires public notification when pollution moves off-site of where the incident took place and threatens public health. This legislation will put the 24-hour public notification requirements into law as well as increase the fine amounts and penalties on any violators.
Governor Scott said, “It does not make sense that the public is not immediately notified when pollution incidents occur and that is why I am directing DEP to immediately issue an emergency rule implementing strict requirements for public notification within 24 hours. Today, I am demanding any business, county or city government responsible for a pollution incident to immediately tell the public. That is common sense and our residents deserve that.
“While DEP was on-site to investigate the situation at Mosaic in less than 24 hours and followed current state laws to notify the public, our laws are outdated and must immediately be changed. When we find laws, rules and regulations that aren’t common sense, it is incumbent on us to immediately make changes like we are doing today. Not only am I directing an emergency rule to begin today, but I will fight for legislation next session to ensure the 24-hour public notification requirements are codified in law and the penalties to any violators are severely strengthened.
“Tomorrow, I will be at Mosaic’s New Wales facility to get a briefing from company officials and to view the sinkhole. Last week, I directed DEP to immediately investigate the sewage spill in Pinellas County and also to expedite their investigation into the sinkhole at Mosaic. I also directed DOH to immediately assist DEP to ensure our drinking water is safe. Both of these investigations are still ongoing, and should a violation be found, all responsible parties will be held accountable with appropriate penalties and sanctions once DEP concludes their work. We must do everything we can to ensure residents and visitors have access to clean and safe water, and are informed when incidents occur that could potentially have an impact on their health.”
As directed by Governor Scott, the emergency rule will require the owner or operator of any facility, including a city or county government, to provide notification of incidents of pollution within 24-hours to DEP, local governments and the general public through the media.
The new rule will apply regardless of whether the impacts of the pollution remain on-site or not. This will apply to any pollution affecting Florida’s air or water resources, such as unauthorized discharges of treated and untreated wastewater and industrial wastewater releases. The emergency rule will last for 90 days. DEP will also simultaneously begin the formal rulemaking process to gather public input and make the rule change permanent.
Secretary Jon Steverson said, “The safety of Floridians and our environment is always a top priority of the department. It is extremely important that Floridians are quickly notified of incidents of pollution that could potentially affect public health and the environment, and this emergency rule will give DEP the authority needed to ensure the public is kept informed when these instances occur.”
The following outlines the new notification requirements directed by Governor Scott that will begin immediately:
- Within 24 hours, DEP, local governments and the general public must be notified of pollution by any and all responsible parties;
- Within 48 hours, DEP, local governments and the general public must be notified of any potential risks to public health, safety or welfare and to surrounding areas by any and all responsible parties; and
- Within 24 hours of becoming aware pollution has affected areas off-site, adjacent and nearby property owners, in addition to DEP and local governments, must be notified of any potential health risks by any and all responsible parties.