As the world’s largest producer of phosphate fertilizer, Mosaic Co. is used to digging up parts of Florida to recover the mineral. But lately, one particular hole is causing the company some headaches.
A sinkhole 45 feet (14 meters) wide has opened up in a pile of mining waste at the company’s New Wales site in Polk County, about 30 miles east of downtown Tampa, swallowing about 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater — enough to fill about 326 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Mosaic says it believes the sinkhole has reached the Floridan aquifer, which provides the local community’s water supply.
While Mosaic first noticed the problem in late August, it didn’t make a public announcement until Sept. 15. Three local residents are now suing the company, alleging improper storage of chemical waste. The spill could mean increased hurdles for Mosaic’s expansion plans in Florida, according to Jonas Oxgaard, a New York-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
“Mosaic should have really disclosed this when they found out about it,” said Chris Damas, an analyst at BCMI Research in Barrie, Ontario, who advised his clients to sell Mosaic shares after news of the sinkhole broke. “Investors are really going to feel less trusting that Mosaic is being forthcoming with their environmental liabilities.”
Plymouth, Minnesota-based Mosaic said it discovered the loss of water on Aug. 27. The pool of water that drained away had sat atop a stack of phosphogypsum, a type of waste from processing phosphate rock, which, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, emits a radioactive gas and contains uranium and radium. The company said a preliminary estimate for the cost of repairing the sinkhole is as much as $50 million.
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