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.
October 7, 2021 at 2:24 pm
I have posted a link to a journal article that I would like to share with you and the readers, regarding RO use at Piney Point. To the contrary that RO was unsuccessful at Piney Point, the article indicates RO was successfully used in conjunction with Lime Precipitation in 2003. As with every treatment process, further adjustments to the RO process were made to resolve any related issues with RO treatment and from 2003-2004 the RO treatment process was capable of treating 400-550 gallon per minute (gpm) consistently. Additionally, the FDEP daily update from Piney Point indicates innovative technology is successfully treating wastewater nutrients well below the nutrients directly discharge to Tampa Bay in March 2021. The current and new treatment process involves Calcium Silicate which is found on bottoms of lakes (In my option a better treatment alternative to Deep Well Injection and can be used in conjunction with RO to produce reusable water). The firms running the treatment process can easily treat the wastewater on-site at rates up to 1000 to 5000 gpm or at worst case 1.5 million gallons per day (MGD). Given the current volume of wastewater at estimated 300 million gallons, the wastewater could be treated within 1-1.5 years. Note it will take 2 years to construct the deep well at Piney Point.
RO TREATMENT JOURNAL ARTICLE FOR REFERENCE
October 7, 2021 at 8:38 pm
well, if the process the commenter said was used successfully in 2003 worked as he claimed, why didn’t that fix the problem? RO is great for removing solids, but to remove all of the other contaminants, additional treatment is required. There are legitimate questions about deep-well injection, too. Btw one of the disposal methods for the brine produced by RO is deep-well injection. but since this project is near the coast, the brine will probably be dumped in the Gulf of Mexico.
October 7, 2021 at 11:15 pm
One more thing. You guys keep referring to Piney Point as a former phosphate mine. It is a waste stack associated with a fertilizer plant. The mining occurred elsewhere
October 8, 2021 at 10:53 am
I’m not sure the poster understood the journal article (Florida water Resources Journal, posted link: https://www.chemicalprocessing.com/articles/2005/466/). Reference the data presented in the article, RO MOST certainly removes contaminants to the ion / molecular level. Below is the removal rates achieved from RO treatment at Piney Point Table 6 within the referenced article: (NOTE: Contrary to your statement, RO does remove all other containments)
Parameter Units Into RO System Out of RO Treatment
Color PCU NA
Fluoride Mg/l 60 <2
Calcium Mg/l 600 <0.5
Phosphorous Mg/l 4200 <0.2
Ammonia Mg/l 800 <1.0
pH Units 4.6-6.5 6.0-8.5
Silica Mg/l 40 <0.5
Sulfate Mg/l 7200 <1.0
Conductivity μs/cm 17,000 <25
Total Nitrogen Mg/l 800 <1.0
TOC Mg/l 91 <1.0
Turbidity NTU 180 <1.0
The RO treatment process does remove solids at the elemental level. RO did not fix the problem, because state funding was suspended. Historically, since 1998, this site has been ignored and many mistakes have been made because of complacent decision-making to “fix the problem”. In my option, RO is not the sole solution to fixing the problem, however, a combination of treatment processes, as mentioned, that was in use to treat the on-site wastewater at Piney Point are very successful. Again, these treatment systems have been suspended because of cost. This brings us back to the Nikki Fried article, that deep well injection is NOT the solution and the proven treatment methods should be used to treat the wastewater. Deep Well Injection is NOT treatment of wastewater and to think pumping millions of gallons of wastewater into the earth (Florida Aquifer) will resolve the Piney Point Disaster, is a huge mistake. I am suggesting, dealing with the waste through treatment and NOT transporting the waste into the earth.
October 8, 2021 at 11:50 am
Piney Point is just one of 24 phosphogypsum stacks in Florida that environmental regulatorys are dealing with. There are currently about 1 billion tons of phosphogypsum stacked in 24 stacks in Florida and about 30 million new tons are generated each year.
We as a society, need to rethink how to reduce and/or stop using fertilizers. There is A GROWING MOVEMENT TOWARD “REGENERATIVE” FARMING, Some farmers, however, are putting that to the test. They’re doing things differently by returning to some of the ways farming was done before there were industrial fertilizers. There’s a growing movement toward so-called “regenerative” farming. Instead of applying fertilizer and tilling soil — breaking it up — between cash crops, they’re planting other crops that replenish nutrients in the soil. Radishes, for example, have been shown to increase phosphorus in soil.
“There are a lot of farmers out there that have completely done away with synthetic fertilizer, and are doing fine,” says Rick Haney, a soil scientist with the USDA.
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