More than 200 million gallons of contaminated waste water reportedly leaked into one of Florida's main underground sources of drinking water after a massive sinkhole opened up beneath a phosphate fertilizer facility.
The leaked water is enough to fill more than 300 Olympic swimming pools.
The sinkhole, which is about 14 meters in diameter, collapsed beneath a pile of waste material called a “gypsum stack” at Mosaic Co., the world’s largest supplier of phosphate.
Sitting on top of the stack was a storage pond containing phosphogypsum, which is a radioactive by-product resulting from the production of phosphate.
The sinkhole is believed to reach down to the Floridian aquifer — an underground system of porous rocks that holds water that is one of the state’s main sources of drinking water.
The company said it was monitoring groundwater and there was no risk to the public as the leak had not reached private water supplies. They have also increased monitoring and sampling of groundwater and found no offsite impact.
But environmental groups are warning that damage from the sinkhole could be severe, and would add to decades of pollution caused by the phosphorous fertilizer industry.
"It’s hard to trust them when they say 'don’t worry,' when they’ve been keeping it secret for three weeks," said Jacki Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity, noting there was nearly a three-week gap between detecting the sinkhole and reporting it to the public.
Environmental and health groups are concerned about the release of harmful chemical substances — including uranium, radium and radon gas.
"We don't know what the long-term effects will be," Lopez explained, adding that contaminants can potentially travel hundreds of miles if they reach the aquifer, which extends from central Florida to Georgia.
“If I were living in this area, and I had well water, I would be worried about my health,” she concluded.