DUETTE — The Mosaic Co. is the biggest player in an industry with a reputation for polluting and scarring the land. While company officials acknowledge the phosphate mining legacy, they say they are also trying to redefine that environmental legacy.
Given what mining has left behind, burnishing a questionable legacy may be the toughest thing the company hopes to do.
The first century of phosphate mining in Florida left vast open mining pits on rural lands. Concentrated hazardous waste created in processing phosphate into agricultural fertilizers could remain a threat to the health of people and the environment for hundreds or thousands of years.
Since becoming Florida’s largest phosphate miner and processor 10 years ago, Mosaic made an effort to project a different image. It puts millions of dollars annually into restoring thousands of acres of old mining lands as close as possible to their natural state, as required by the state since 1975. The company gives money to local causes, including sponsoring facilities at the Manatee County Fair and giving money to Bradenton’s Riverwalk and South Florida Museum. It even donates land to county and city parks departments.
The efforts have not made the company untouchable and have not stemmed complaints from environmentalists.
In September, Mosaic agreed to pay almost $2 billion to settle a federal lawsuit over leaks and improper handling of hazardous waste at eight of its Florida and Louisiana production plants. The settlement ends 12 years of haggling over how an estimated 30 million tons of waste will be treated.
Even as the settlement was taking place, Manatee County was becoming part of the phosphate industry’s new mining epicenter in Florida.
Polk County, once a major phosphate producer, no longer hosts any active Mosaic mining sites.
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