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DEP takes aim at media’s coverage of Mosaic sinkhole story

in Peter by

As for the much-heralded sinkhole at the Mosaic Company’s New Wales Facility in Polk County, readers of the Tampa Bay Times may be in for a shock. Truth be told, both the state of Florida and Mosaic have been much more proactive than they are led to believe.

And Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection wan to set the record straight.

In a statement Tuesday, the agency blasts the Times for omitting several key facts — despite the paper being informed in writing — on efforts to ensure public safety during the incident, which reportedly released nearly 215 million gallons of water from a containment pool potentially into the Floridan Aquifer.

“DEP’s priority is always the safety of Floridians and our environment,” says a statement released Tuesday by the DEP. “That’s why DEP has gone above and beyond the requirements of Florida law by working with Mosaic to notify the nearest adjacent homeowners who may want their drinking water wells tested.”

In fact, the agency has been on-site frequently and communicating with Mosaic daily to ensure response activities and frequent monitoring to ensure the health and safety of the nearby community.

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is absolutely committed to the security of all Floridians and our shared environment, which is why we have worked closely with Mosaic since learning of this issue to ensure that proper actions are taken,” said DEP Secretary  Jon Steverson.

With an “abundance of caution,” Steverson said the agency has gone above and beyond the requirements of the law, working with Mosaic to provide testing of drinking water wells for those residents who request it, even with no evidence of a threat to off-site groundwater contamination.

According to the DEP, the Times also failed to report on the ongoing monitoring of nearby wells.

For example, even though the nearest private drinking well is approximately 3 miles away from the site of the sinkhole, DEP’s initial investigation shows no indication of a threat.

“Both Mosaic and DEP will continue to perform sampling,” the agency says, “and if any indication of off-site migration is seen, affected homeowners will be immediately notified.”

Mosaic is using independent, third-party contractors to examine the samples, going through a third-party lab. In addition, the DEP will be working with the Polk County Department of Health to review drinking water samples collected by Mosaic’s contractor.

Also, DEP staff will be performing its own split sampling from the site.

As an extra precaution, Mosaic is providing homeowners with bottled water, if desired, while test results are pending.

During the situation, Mosaic has committed to daily monitoring – to ensure no long-term effects –  although all indications so far have shown any affected water has been successfully contained.

Providing an additional layer of public health protection, the DEP is assigning staff to collect samples of on-site groundwater wells, which will then be split for separate evaluation by Mosaic and the DEP.

From this point on, the DEP will be making regular visits to the Polk County site, and will require Mosaic to provide regular status reports on what corrective actions will be taken. Those reports will go to both the agency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Throughout the investigation, Mosaic will continue to operate its two recovery wells for recovering process water, as well submit a design and implement plans to repair and close the sinkhole.

At the request of both surrounding municipalities and homeowners, Mosaic’s contractor will regularly test public supply wells and drinking water wells.

“Once the initial response phase is complete,” the DEP concludes, “we will have a more complete understanding of all circumstances surrounding the event. At that time, we will turn our attention to determining the best next steps in DEP’s enforcement process to ensure accountability and that this type of incident does not happen again.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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