News And Updates
Published By: HeraldTribune.com
Recently many Florida newspapers carried a 12-page advertising supplement from The Mosaic Co. with images of happy families and wildlife. Mosaic is the large Minnesota-based corporation which operates almost all of the phosphate mines in Central Florida.
What the pictures didn't show is the phosphate mining process, which involves the complete removal of the overlying soils, vegetation, wetlands and streams over thousands of acres of land.
The glowing advertisement omitted the numerous environmental concerns and opposition to Mosaic's push to extend mining farther into Southwest Florida and the Peace River Watershed. Mosaic says the "mineable area" in Central Florida is 80 by 40 miles -- 3,200 square miles, three times the size of Rhode Island.
What Mosaic's advertising blitz also didn't say is that it is seeking an Army Corps of Engineers permit to destroy wetlands for its South Fort Meade mine (10,885 acres) without conducting a federally required Environmental Impact Statement, which would include an analysis of the cumulative impacts of mining, and without public input.
Though Mosaic makes claims about its successful reclamation, only 28 percent of its mined lands have been reclaimed and released, and there are serious doubts about whether reclaimed areas can ever replace pre-mining ecosystems.
When finally begun, a forested wetland reclamation may take 20 to 30 years, during which time wetland functions can be lost. While estimates vary, at least 40 percent of mined lands are left in clay slime ponds, which alter the hydrology of mined areas by acting as holding ponds that decrease flows to stream channels.
Mining companies obtain variances to delay reclamation of mined land because they don't have enough sand left to fill mine pits unless they can get it from a new mine -- a kind of Ponzi scheme. No one asks what's going to happen when the last mines are left and there is no sand to reclaim them.
Processing phosphate ore results in radioactive phosphogypsum waste. The phosphogypsum is stored in massive piles known as gyp stacks, 24 of them in Florida, which have reservoirs of acidic waste water on top. An additional 30 million new tons of gyp are generated each year as mining marches south.
Will Mosaic avoid the acidic waste water or clay slime pond spills of the industry's past?
Mulberry Phosphates filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and abandoned its Piney Point and Mulberry gyp stacks. To keep 1.2 billion gallons of acidic waste water at Piney Point from contaminating Tampa Bay, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was forced to take over the cleanup at a cost of nearly $200 million.
In 2004 at Mosaic's Riverview facility, 65 million gallons of phosphoric acid waste water spilled during the hurricane season into a creek that flows into Hillsborough Bay.
Phosphate mining uses vast quantities of water. Mosaic tells us it recycles a high percentage but doesn't tell us it is seeking permits to use 76 million gallons a day, more than three times the amount used by 250,000 users downstream in the Peace River basin.
Phosphate companies tout the jobs they provide: Most are in the processing plant (280 for South Fort Meade), but those numbers are dwarfed by the number of jobs that depend on tourism, fishing and retirement activities in the communities downstream. Only 39 percent of the Mosaic phosphate goes to the U.S. and Canada.
An environmental impact statement is what the law requires so that mining causes as little damage as possible. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated in 2007 that the South Fort Meade project could have substantial and unacceptable adverse impacts on the Peace River watershed. The EPA said that a cumulative effects analysis of current and future mines should be provided for the entire watershed.
Mosaic is spending large sums of money on its public relations campaign to enhance its image and divert attention from environmental concerns. Ad campaigns are no substitute for truth about the impacts of phosphate mining on Florida's fragile environment and water resources.
Mosaic would better serve Florida by spending those advertising dollars to avoid mining wetlands and Peace River tributaries and to address the numerous concerns of the EPA, including the short- and long-term effects from disruption of surface and ground-water systems and impacts on wildlife and native habitat.
Cris Costello is the Sarasota-based regional representative of the Sierra Club.