A plan to inject the industrial wastewater from Piney Point underground has some environmentalists alarmed. Now, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has filed an objection to the plan with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“It defies all logic for this agency to approve a permit, for the first time ever, to deep well inject heavy metals, radioactive byproducts, and other phosphate mining hazardous waste from Piney Point into the aquifer, risking further environmental contamination as well as potential contamination of the local water supply, following the ecological devastation wrought by the leak and subsequent release of wastewater from this same facility into Tampa Bay earlier this year,” wrote Fried, also a Democratic candidate for Governor.
“This potentially disastrous decision would be in spite of the industry’s own studies showing a high risk of migration, and despite experts telling this agency that there are better environmental alternatives available, like reverse osmosis.”
The abandoned Piney Point phosphate mine became the site of a near environmental disaster this spring. Gov. Ron DeSantis in April declared a state of emergency around the site after a breach in one of three reservoirs. The DEP ultimately pumped 215 million gallons from the water stack into Port Manatee to avoid the collapse of the reservoir.
The Legislature quickly budgeted $100 million for repairs at the site, the first step in a complete shutdown of the long-standing ecological hazard. Ultimately, the state wants all water removed and the land flattened again. But first, officials in Manatee County and at the DEP must move the water out of the three on-site reservoirs.
The DEP on Wednesday evening held a meeting in Manatee County about potentially granting a permit for testing and construction of an Underground Injection Control Class I Injection Well System. DEP officials say such a plan will only move forward if it can be done safely.
“This draft permit would authorize the construction and operational testing of one non-hazardous Class I injection well (IW-1) and one dual-zone monitor well (DZMW-1) for the disposal of industrial wastewater from the Manatee County Piney Point Facility following an extensive review of plans by DEP, including engineering and geology professionals,” reads a DEP meeting notice.
The idea of injecting hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated industrial wastewater into the earth has many anxious about potential contamination of the Floridan Aquifer or local drinking water supplies. Fried submitted her comments siding with environmentalists who deem the plan too risky.
“Also at risk when it comes to the deep well injection permit before you today is Florida’s $150 billion agriculture industry that I am honored to represent, which is the state’s second largest economic driver, and is critical to maintaining a safe and secure domestic food supply,” Fried wrote. “In 2012, Manatee County withdrew their deep well injection permit application because producers were concerned about water supply contamination. With one billion tons of hazardous waste already in Florida’s gypstacks, and with expansion possibly adding another 500 million tons in the next few decades, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection must guarantee Florida’s crops and food supply won’t be harmed.”
But that leaves the question: what to do with the water?
Fried favors using a reverse osmosis process endorsed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to clean the water on site.
“The EPA and Piney Point’s own contractor agree that reverse osmosis is a better solution, and experts have told this agency that a better solution to avoid gypsum stack collapses is to truck the hazardous waste to other sites until reverse osmosis capability can be scaled up,” Fried said. “This is something DEP should consider before moving forward with this permit that risks harming our environment, our economy, and the residents whose drinking water is sourced from the same aquifer that hazardous wastewater would be injected into.”
Of note, reverse osmosis filtration at the site failed in 2003, according to a Tampa Bay Times article at the time.
Fried also said the EPA should commit to denying construction of any future phosphogypsum stacks at other mines in Florida.