Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Feds Reach Nearly $2B Legal Settlement With Fertilizer Maker Mosaic

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

One of the world's largest fertilizer makers is settling a massive hazardous waste lawsuit for nearly $2 billion to help clean up pollution and upgrade leaky facilities in Florida and Louisiana, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were set to announce the agreement with Minnesota-based The Mosaic Co. on Thursday. The deal still needs to be finalized by the court.

The legal agreement concerns the proper storage and disposal of more than 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste.

Mosaic makes a commonly used phosphorus-based fertilizer, the production of which creates tons of solid waste and polluted water.

Mosaic stores the waste in 500-foot-high piles that span more than 600 acres at eight facilities in Florida and Louisiana. The company's improper handling of its waste poses a threat to the environment and human health, the government said.

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

"The 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste addressed in this case is the largest amount ever covered by a federal or state ... settlement and will ensure that wastewater at Mosaic's facilities is properly managed and does not pose a threat to groundwater resources," the EPA said.

Mosaic spokesman Richard Ghent says the original lawsuit from the EPA dates back to 2003 and involves the disposal of "process water," a waste product from making the commonly used phosphorous-based fertilizer.

"We're pleased to be bringing this to a close, and it really pertains to activities on recycling and reuse within our fence line," he said. "Local communities basically are not affected by this, and we want to assure people that our facilities do not pose a risk to the local communities."

Mosaic mines phosphate rock from pits in central Florida, which it turns into fertilizer and ships all over the world. EPA inspectors discovered that the company was mixing highly-corrosive substances from its fertilizer operations with the solid waste and wastewater from mineral processing — a violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws.

The company is to pay for the future closure of four of its facilities using a $630 million trust fund it is creating under the settlement. That money will be invested until it reaches $1.8 billion, which will pay for the closures.

It's also agreeing to pay $170 million on environmental cleanup and other projects, and $3 million total to Louisiana and Florida.

Ghent says says several good things came out of the settlement, including having clear guidelines for dealing with the waste water.

"It provides a clear road map for future closure activities," he says. "The other thing is it it provides $170 million that we're planning on spending on future upgrades to the existing facilities for improved recycling and reuse."

In Florida, the facilities covered in the agreement were located in Bartow, Lithia, Mulberry, Riverview, South Pierce and Green Bay in Florida, as well as two sites in Louisiana, in St. James and Uncle Sam.

The Justice Department says the lawsuit has spurred Mosaic to change the way it does business, and reduce the waste created by its fertilizer production.

"This settlement represents our most significant enforcement action in the mining and mineral processing arena, and will have a significant impact on bringing all mosaic facilities into compliance with the law," John C. Cruden, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said.

"This sets the standard for our continuing enforcement ... in the entire phosphoric acid industry. And, it reflects our emphasis on working jointly with impacted states."

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.