Florida to devote $115 million to shut down troubled Piney Point phosphate site

Article in the Orlando Sentinel by JIM TURNER, April 13, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — The state expects to put more than $115 million toward closing the site of a former phosphate plant where a reservoir leak set off a wastewater crisis in Manatee County.

Gov. Ron DeSantis also said Tuesday investigators are working to determine if legal action can be taken against HRK Holdings, the owner of the old Piney Point site.

DeSantis on April 3 declared an emergency in Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties as a leak in a reservoir forced an evacuation of nearby residents amid worries that a wall could collapse, leading to a flood of contaminated water.

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Opinion: Phosphate Polluters

Article in The Bradenton Times by Glenn Compton • Wednesday, Apr 14, 2021

There is general agreement among credible scientists that there is no harmless level of radiation. There is evidence that low-level radon exposure may have a greater relative risk than higher levels of radon exposure. This evidence is recognized and incorporated by EPA’s risk estimate ranges.  

We need to maintain strong phosphogypsum rules and develop other protective regulations. Radon is one of the most significant public health hazards regardless of how scientists work the data.  

Strong industry efforts continue to gut limited phosphate industry regulation. Current regulations are not adequate to address the harm that is occurring from the use of phosphate fertilizers. We should not continue to subsidize the phosphate industry with free water use, preferential electric rates, the right to contaminate ground and surface water and pollute wetlands, etc. Instead, we should curb the overuse of phosphate. 

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USF model shows path of polluted Piney Point discharge water as it spreads around Tampa Bay

Jesse Mendoza Sarasota Herald-Tribune April 14, 2021

A computer model shows that a plume of wastewater from Piney Point has spread as far north as the Little Manatee River and St. Petersburg, and as far south as the Manatee River, as it slowly heads out toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Research teams from the University of South Florida are using a computer model that forecasts the path of nutrient-rich wastewater discharged into Tampa Bay from the former Piney Point fertilizer plant this month as they study how the polluted water is affecting marine ecosystems.

The forecast shows that a plume of the wastewater will shift back and forth along the eastern shores of middle and lower Tampa Bay, from as far north as the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve and the Little Manatee River south to the northern shores of Robinson Preserve and the Manatee River. The forecast shows varying concentrations of the wastewater have entered important habitats such as Bishop Harbor and the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve.

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Phosphate industry and us – the story of Piney Point

Column from Sun Port Charlotte by Andy Mele and the Peace+Myakka Waterkeeper

There are several common-sense steps [7] that can prevent another Piney Point, or worse.

1. Require the FDEP to get tougher with the phosphate industry. Bankrupt or not, force the industry to begin Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) on stack fluids immediately. We do not accept procrastination and postponement as viable preventive measures. Piney Point is a clear example of the consequences of “kicking the can down the road.”

2. Empty the cells and seal off the gypstacks now, not 30 years from now. The dry flanks of the 24 stacks in the Bone Valley contain a high percentage of ultra-fine dusts, some particles as small as 1 micron, a clear and present health threat to communities throughout west-central Florida.

3. End the dishonest process of “blending,” in which toxic and hazardous wastes are diluted with tens of millions of gallons per day of prime groundwater — available free to the industry — and then releasing it into surface waters — many of them drinking water sources — once it meets state standards.

4. Any further production of radioactive phosphogypsum and extremely hazardous process fluids must be halted immediately.

5. Firmly oppose the use of phosphogypsum for “Radioactive Roads.”

6. If FDEP can’t handle the job, bring in the federal EPA to regulate the phosphate industry.

7. Require the industry to use reclaimed water for its 90 million gallons per day usage. The state’s water crisis simply cannot permit wasting precious potable water resources.

To read the full article, visit:—the-story-of-piney-point/article_3a41ea9c-9bd3-11eb-a0e5-7f76b5f82453.html

Worried about Piney Point? Polk County is ground zero for phosphogypsum stacks

Polk County has at least a dozen such storage sites.

Article by Gary White at The Ledger

“The breach of a reservoir in Manatee County holding wastewater from fertilizer processing offers a reminder that Polk County contains plenty of similar sites.

The leak at the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack is threatening to release millions of gallons of contaminated water into Tampa Bay. The potential environmental catastrophe has drawn national attention.

At least a dozen such stacks exist in Polk County, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Those include the largest storage facility in the state, the 1,147-acre New Wales Stack, about five miles southwest of Mulberry.

Environmental groups are citing Piney Point as a reason not to build or expand gypstacks and to increase state or federal oversight of the ones that exist.

Marian Ryan of Winter Haven has long led efforts by the Sierra Club to oppose phosphate mining and the fertilizer production that results in gypstacks.

“Sierra Club’s position is that they shouldn’t be producing phosphogypsum in their process,” Ryan said. “Our understanding is that there is a methodology for processing phosphate that doesn’t produce phosphogypsum, but apparently it’s not economically feasible. We’re opposed to sacrifice Florida’s environment for chemical fertilizers.”’

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Piney Point threatens Tampa Bay, but other FL estuaries are in trouble, too

Great article in The Florida Phoenix by Craig Pittman.

“Piney Point has a long history of polluting the water and air around its location near Port Manatee, dating to when Borden — yes, the milk and glue company — built the plant in 1966. Just a year later, Borden was caught dumping waste into Bishop Harbor.

Piney Point has repeatedly changed hands since then, with each owner overseeing at least one pollution incident. At one point the state itself owned the plant and wound up loading millions of gallons of wastewater on board a barge, taking it miles offshore, and spraying it in the Gulf of Mexico.

That was in 2003. That summer, I was one of three reporters who spent days on end digging through documents in Tampa and Tallahassee to chart the history of the place. We wanted to find out how it had become, in the words of a top state official, “one of the biggest environmental threats in Florida history.”

Over and over, we found, state Department of Environmental Protection officials bent the rules or ignored warnings about problems, just to try to keep the fertilizer business open a little longer. They kept putting what was good for business ahead of what was good for the bay.”

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Florida’s latest regulatory nightmare exposes a glaring national failure

Great article in The Hill by Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity. She emphasizes the need for EPA regulation for phosphogypsum.

“As environmental regulators and politicians nervously saluted efforts to prevent the catastrophic release of millions of gallons of wastewater from the aging Piney Point phosphogypsum wastewater storage pond near Tampa, Fla., this week, there was scarce little talk of how we got here.

Or of how we’ll prevent similar disasters moving forward.

Much like the country’s toxic coal ash dumps and pollution-spewing oil and gas wells, the dozens of phosphogypsum stacks across Florida and beyond highlight regulatory failures and chronic injustices that pose catastrophic environmental harms and place disproportionate health and safety risks on Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and low-wealth communities.

And in the case of many of Florida’s 25 phosphogypsum stacks, those glaring risks have steadily mounted as state and federal officials ignored signs of troubling failures at outdated facilities plagued by aging infrastructure and lax oversight.

Phosphogypsum waste is created during the process of making phosphoric acid, which is widely used in fertilizers. The toxic, radioactive waste is stored in more than 70 of the mountainous waste piles called “phosphogypsum stacks” in communities in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. “

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FDEP authorizes emergency release of 480 million gallons of radioactive phosphogypsum toxic waste into Tampa Bay

From the Bradenton Herald on March 30, 2021

Piney Point plans emergency release.
Environmentalists fear impact on water quality.

As site operators at Piney Point begin a controlled release of up to 480 million gallons of contaminated water, environmentalists say they’re bracing for the significant impacts it may have on Tampa Bay.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection authorized the release after a leak was discovered in the largest process water reservoir at Piney Point, a former phosphate plant. State officials say the release is meant to prevent an environmental disaster, but water quality advocates say it could have lasting effects on local water quality.

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Mosaic Seeks More Gypsum Stack Permits Amid Calls For Tougher EPA Oversight Over Contamination Concerns

Mosaic is seeking permits for a 121-acre expansion of the gypsum stack at its New Wales plant and a modification of the reactivated 319-acre stack at its Green Bay plant.

This comes at a time when Sierra and other environmental groups have launched a campaign to seek stronger federal oversight of this waste byproduct of fertilizer manufacturing.

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