Vern Buchanan Wants EPA to Take Over Toxic Wastewater at Manatee County Phosphate Processing Plant

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make sure toxic wastewater at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant is being safely managed.

Buchanan wrote EPA Regional Administrator Kathy Walker on the matter, calling on her to make sure federal laws on toxic cleanups are being enforced.

“The Piney Point fertilizer plant opened in Manatee County in 1966 and was abandoned in 2001. Since then, various stakeholders have failed to agree on a solution to safely drain the property’s toxic phosphogypsum stacks,” the congressman’s office noted. “Phosphogypsum is a radioactive waste byproduct of the fertilizer manufacturing process. During the phosphate extraction process, phosphogypsum waste is left behind and contains naturally-occurring uranium, thorium and radium. This waste material is stored in stacks that are covered in water. It must be treated before being introduced to the water supply.

“Toxic water is stored at Piney Point in ponds that are now approaching maximum capacity. Additional rainfall contributes to the contaminated water in the stacks and increases the risk of a spill. A study issued in 2019 found that Piney Point may be only two years away from reaching capacity,” Buchanan’s office added. “Deep-well injections and treating the water to discharge standards are among the possible technologies that have been discussed to treat the contaminated water. ‘Spray evaporation’ has been used to manage contaminated water levels, but has only kept up with rainfall. In 2011, 170 million of gallons of contaminated water spilled from the site into Bishop Harbor and Tampa Bay. More recently, officials warned that holding ponds of contaminated water are quickly running out of capacity, further threatening the region.”

“My congressional district faces a potential environmental nightmare that requires immediate federal attention,” Buchanan wrote Walker. “Contaminated water from a long-abandoned phosphate processing plant is threatening to leak into our region’s water supply. Federal oversight is urgently needed to ensure the safe management and disposal of the contaminated water and prevent an environmental disaster.”

“Clean water and protecting our environment are critical to our quality of life in Southwest Florida,” Buchanan added. “I urge the EPA to step in and help protect public health and the environment by providing technical and scientific support to safely manage and drain the phosphogypsum stacks.”

Buchanan noted in the letter that Manatee County has asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to dispose of the water.

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is responsible for environmental oversight of the property, which is currently owned by HRK Holdings. Manatee County has requested that FDEP prioritize the proper and safe disposal of water currently in the gypsum stacks and complete the closure of the stacks in accordance with Florida statutes,” Buchanan wrote Walker. “I urge the EPA to step in and help protect public health and the environment by providing technical and scientific support to safely manage and drain the phosphogypsum stacks.I appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your reply.”

State Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, who defeated the congressman’s son to win a seat in the state House, is challenging Buchanan in one of the more closely watched congressional races in Florida. Buchanan was first elected to Congress in 2006 and sits on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

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