October 1, 2016 – Orlando Sentinel
by Scott Maxwell
If you’ve ever watched bad science-fiction movies, you know that when you combine two terrifying things, you get one even more-terrifying thing.
Like a sharktopus, sharknado or even an atomic twister.
Such horrors sound too bizarre for reality — but maybe not for Florida.
About 60 miles southwest of Orlando, a massive sinkhole recently opened up near a phosphate processing plant in Polk County, allowing an estimated 215 million of gallons of contaminated waste to seep into the Florida soil and aquifer.
That’s right, it’s the attack of the Radioactive Sinkhole.
The news seems startling in its own right. But it becomes even more startling when you consider that the phosphate and fertilizer company, Mosaic, hid news of the leak from the public for three weeks.
So did government officials.
They kept the secret — from the public, the media, even from nearby residents who live off well-water — from Aug. 28 to Sept. 16 as millions of gallons of plant waste and byproduct gushed though a 45-foot-wide hole into the earth.
Isn’t that how the villains in those sci-fi movies behave?
“It was shocking, really,” said Manoj Chopra, an expert on sinkholes and environmental engineering at the University of Central Florida. “Because the amount of liquid that had gone through this hole, before we even knew about it, was so large.”
The response from Mosaic and state officials has been that you needn’t worry — that environmental officials were on the scene within 24 hours, that health risks are small to nonexistent and that the radiation and acidity levels from this mix of sodium, sulfate and gypsum are low.
Admittedly, humans encounter low levels of radiation almost every day, in everything from microwaves to lawn soil. And even soda is mildly acidic.
But A) We don’t know the actual levels of radioactivity or acidity of the stuff pouring into our aquifer. (I asked both Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for specific levels. Neither provided them.)
And B) If someone dumped 2 billion cans of Coke down there, I’d still have questions about the impact.
Chopra said those concerns are well-founded, saying: “I don’t hear any technical people giving us technical answers about what is in the ground.”
And I’m sorry, but “Trust us” simply doesn’t cut it. Not in a state run by officials who are financially cozy with the industries they’re supposed to regulate.
Mosaic — which, just last year, agreed to a nearly $2 billion federal settlement in another waste-handling case with the EPA — has funneled gobs of campaign dollars to Florida politicians.
We’re talking $550,000 in the last two election cycles alone. To legislators, Cabinet members, political parties, you name it. Most to Republicans, but about $35,000 to Democrats as well. [READ MORE]