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The Latest Bad Idea for Piney Point Should Be Rejected

Center BD logo In: The Latest Bad Idea for Piney Point Should Be Rejected | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River

Here is an excellent op-ed explaining why this easy-way-out solution is a terrible idea.  This inexcusable situation has come to be because our DEP has failed us.  They see their mission as protecting industry at all costs even to the point of hiding dangers to public health.

The Tampa Bay Times does not provide a link to this article.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

Manatee County officials are proposing to hide Piney Point s toxic waste problem by injecting it underground. Tribune News Service

Hillsborough Edition&paperImage=saintpetersburgtimes&mtime=53483C5C In: The Latest Bad Idea for Piney Point Should Be Rejected | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River


The Latest Bad Idea for Piney Point Should Be Rejected

How quickly those who profit from the phosphate industry would like us to forget.

It’s been just six months since the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack failed, prompting the release of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater that forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes in Manatee County and killed thousands of tons of fish, sea turtles and manatees.

Now Manatee County officials propose hiding Piney Point’s toxic waste problem by injecting it underground into the porous karst geology that holds the groundwater that millions of Floridians depend on.

This dangerous, extremely short-sighted plan would be nothing less than a risky experiment, pumping the remaining millions of gallons of toxic wastewater underground. Worse yet, this would set the precedent for an out-of-sight and out-of-mind approach with significant risks. It should never be allowed to happen.

Recognizing the state’s reliance on groundwater, nearly 40 years ago the Florida Legislature passed the Water Quality Assurance Act banning hazardous waste in injection wells.

The law explains that this protective measure is necessary due to Florida’s thin soil cover, shallow water table, highly porous and channelized limestone formation, high and uneven rainfall, and saltwater intrusion. For those reasons, the law notes that disposal of hazardous waste in injection wells is not an environmentally sound practice.

Yet, the new Piney Point permit application requests to inject industrial wastewater into the lower Floridan aquifer — without pretreatment to address that toxic waste!

Here’s why that request should be rejected.

The phosphogypsum waste comes from producing phosphate fertilizer. The waste is produced when phosphate rock is processed to make phosphoric acid by chemically reacting it with sulfuric acid.

This acidic waste solution generally contains uranium, thorium and radium, as well as arsenic, chromium, selenium, cadmium, radium-226, lead, vanadium, copper, antimony, thallium and fluoride. And the phosphogypsum and process wastewater at Piney Point also contains phosphorous, ammonia and nitrogen.

The waste at Piney Point is hazardous and therefore cannot be permitted for injection into our aquifers. Moreover, the area where the well is proposed has not been well-studied. There has been no measurable data provided demonstrating the wastewater could be completely confined in the lower Floridan aquifer. And it is possible these waste materials could migrate within that aquifer, posing threats to communities beyond the injection site.

In addition, the application does not appear to take into account the impact that saltwater intrusion may have on Florida’s aquifer system, especially in light of projected sea-level rise and the project’s projected 40-year timeframe.

Finally, while Piney Point is a particularly problematic phosphogypsum stack, it is not unique. Florida is saddled with 1 billion tons of phosphogypsum in 25 stacks, and the fertilizer industry adds approximately 30 million tons each year.

The truth is fertilizer production is a nasty business. Along with tearing up hundreds of thousands of acres of Florida habitat to strip-mine for phosphate, the industry generates toxic waste when it creates the phosphoric acid used in fertilizer. This radioactive material is then stored in “stacks” hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall in perpetuity because it poses an unacceptable risk of fatal cancer.

The secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Manatee County’s application confirm the waste will not be treated for any of these hazards prior to injection. If the Department of Environmental Protection authorizes this permit, it may establish dangerous precedent for future phosphogypsum stack management, and it may open the door to other injection wells for Florida’s two dozen gypstacks.

Take for example, the New Wales gypstack. In 2016, a sinkhole opened in it dumping at least 215 million gallons of wastewater and an unknown amount of phosphogypsum into an aquifer that supplies drinking water to millions of Floridians.

It turned out this was at least the fourth sinkhole in this stack. Rather than demand closure, Florida regulators issued a permit to expand this sinkhole-prone stack by another 230 acres. What happens next time there’s a sinkhole or a breach? Will deep-well injection be offered as the next best “solution” to avert calamity?

A much better idea is for state regulators to stop letting this toxic industry use Florida as the dumping ground for its waste. Period.

Jaclyn Lopez is the Florida director and senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in St. Petersburg.

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