Friday, April 28, 2017
1997 Environmental Disaster
In 1997, amid heavy rains, a dam broke atop one of two gypsum stacks at the Mulberry Phosphates plant on State Road 60, unleashing a 56-million gallon spill of the acidic wastewater into the Alafia River. The pollution killed everything in its path for 42 miles, eventually rolling into Hillsborough Bay. The death toll included more than 1 million baitfish and shellfish and 72,900 gamefish near the river’s mouth, 377 acres of damaged trees and other vegetation along the riverbank, and an unknown number of alligators. When state officials hit the company with a multimillion-dollar fine for the damage done, it declared bankruptcy and shut down. (Its insurance company wound up footing the bill.) Ten years later, local and state officials were still working on restoration projects. Meanwhile the old gyp stack was taken over by a larger company—Mosaic—with plans to close it permanently.