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Sinkhole causes 980 million litres of radioactive water to leak into Florida aquifer
A sinkhole has opened up at a fertilizer plant in the US, causing about 980 million litres of radioactive water to leak into one of Florida's main underground sources of drinking water.
The sinkhole, which is about 14 metres in diameter, collapsed beneath a pile of waste material called a "gypsum stack".
Sitting on top of the stack was a storage pond containing phosphogypsum, which is a radioactive by-product resulting from the production of phosphate.
Mosaic, the world's largest supplier of phosphate, said the hole at its New Wales facility in the town of Mulberry was discovered by a worker on August 27.
It said the sinkhole is believed to reach down to the Floridan aquifer, which supplies drinking water to millions of residents in the state. Aquifers are huge underground systems of porous rocks that hold 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. It is working to recover the water using pumps and the plant is still running.
"Groundwater moves very slowly," senior Mosaic official David Jellerson told Associated Press, adding that the pond with the sinkhole was "now dry".
However, his reassurances failed to ease fears of contamination in the area.
"It's hard to trust them when they say 'Don't worry,' when they've been keeping it secret for three weeks," Jacki Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity, told Reuters.
Mosaic said it immediately reported the incident to state and federal authorities.
Dee Ann Miller, spokeswoman for the state's Department of Environmental Protection, said the company was updating state and federal agencies on the situation.
"Along with reviewing daily reports, DEP is performing frequent site visits to make sure timely and appropriate response continues in order to safeguard public health and the environment," Ms Miller told AP.
Rob Bentley, who lives in the area, said he was concerned by the leak.
"What did they say? Radioactivity possibly? Slightly? Yeah - I'm concerned," Mr Bentley told WTSP.
His neighbour, Deborah Thatcher, said they already had "multiple filters on our water".
"But I'll just take more measures to be sure the kids are drinking bottled water for a while," she said.
The aquifer is a major source of drinking water in the state. One of the highest producing aquifers in the world, it underlies all of Florida and extends into southern Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
[Source: By Chris Graham, The Telegraph, London, 17Sep16]
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