leading global maker of cocentrated phosphate and potash Mosaic Fertilizer has reached a $2-billion settlement with state and federal environmental regulators and the US Department of Justice over funding for the long-term disposal of massive phosphogypsum waste piles and the treatment of 60 billion pounds of wastewater from its plants in Florida and St James Parish, according to the company and authorities.
The settlement closes a 10-year regulatory dispute in which the US Environmental Protection Agency claimed Mosaic violated the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as also state hazardous waste laws.
Making of phosphate fertilizer produces acidic wastewater and huge quantities of phosphogypsum, an unwanted byproduct with trace radioactivity.
''This case is a major victory for clean water, public health and communities across Florida and Louisiana,'' said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, in an EPA statement Thursday.
The deal would be subject to a 45-day public comment period in Louisiana and a 30-day public comment period in Florida and would need approval from federal courts in New Orleans and Florida, according to EPA officials.
According to Mosaic officials, the company would spend $170 million at its plants to modify the handling of process wastewater so as to keep it out of phosphogypsum stacks.
''We are pleased to be bringing this matter to a close,'' Joc O'Rourke, president and CEO of Mosaic of Plymouth, Minnesota, said in a company statement.
Fertilizer companies like Mosaic mine phosphate rock and send it to processing plants where sulphuric acid is used to extract phosphorous for fertilizer used for corn, wheat and other crops.
Most of Mosaic's phosphate mines and plants are in Florida, but two plants are in St. James Parish.
Phosphogypsum, which is a solid waste, is difficult to reuse under current EPA rules due to its radioactivity and can present a risk to ground and surface water if the material is not properly contained.
In addition to ponds, tanks and ditches, the white waste material has been stored for decades in stacks up to 500 feet high and spread across 600 acres in Louisiana, Florida and elsewhere.
The EPA said the stacks are some of the largest man-made waste piles in the US.
Phosphogypsum is exempt from hazardous waste regulations, but EPA said inspections revealed Mosaic was mixing highly corrosive process water from its fertiliser operations with other waters and the phosphogypsum.
The EPA claimed the corrosive wastewater had been used to clean equipment and air pollution scrubbers and in the production of sulfuric acid and other products.
EPA considered that water hazardous waste and so mixing it was deemed a violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws.
Mosaic disputed that regulatory interpretation and admitted no fault in the settlement.
Debra Waters, Mosaic director of environmental regulatory affairs, said Thursday the company will continue to reuse the process water but is developing methods to keep it separate from the stacks. The water is now held in ponds on the stacks and in voids inside the stacks.
Under the settlement, Mosaic also will conduct two environmental projects worth $2.2 million in Florida and Louisiana.