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Landfill sinkhole raises water safety concerns | News

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Landfill sinkhole raises water safety concerns
Landfill sinkhole raises water safety concerns

LITHIA, Florida -- Putting a garbage dump on this remote spot seemed like a perfectly good idea thirty years ago.

After all, the Southeast County landfill site in Lithia was specifically chosen because silt from old phosphate mining left the area with a four to eighteen foot layer of hard clay below it, a layer that would act as a natural barrier and liner between the trash and Florida's underground water table.

Photo Gallery: Aerial pictures of the landfill sinkhole

"This area had panned out to be favorable for the siting of the landfill and that's why the permits were issued," says Ron Cope, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Commission.

That decision process included testing for the likelihood of future sinkhole development. But fast forward three decades, and no one would have foreseen the massive crater now sitting right in the middle of the dump.

A sinkhole 60 feet deep and apparently still growing.

"The edges are still falling in and so it might get a little bit wider, but we don't expect it to get any deeper," says Michelle Van Dyke, a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Utilities Department.

A more immediate concern is whether the natural clay liner has been compromised. If so, leachate - a potentially toxic goop formed over years of settling and decomposition - could be seeping toward the water table below. There's about a hundred foot of buffer of soil, but still it's a concern.

"The plug at the bottom of the bathtub based on the development of the sinkhole has been pulled," says Cope, "so there's no chance to catch and treat the leachate that's generated. So down it goes."

The Environmental Protection Commission says it's a bad situation, but there are some favorable facts at play.

First, the sinkhole is located nearly dead center of the dump's property, so toxins would have a better chance of dissipating before reaching any potable water sources outside the property.

Second, the landfill is downstream from most wells that people would use for drinking water.

And third, the landfill already has a network of monitoring stations that test the underground water on a regular basis for potential contaminants.

On Friday, the team that was at the landfill site will be meeting with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to discuss what to do about filling the sinkhole and treating any potential problems down the road.


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