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How to Fix Florida's Phosphate Problem

How you can hold those in charge accountable and help prevent disasters like those at Piney Point from happening again

How to Fix Florida's Phosphate Problem

Dead fish washing ashore in the Tampa Bay, photographed by John Schiller during the red tide event of July 2021.

Dave Markett, a Tampa Bay fishing guide who regularly fishes Piney Point, told those in attendance at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 2021 Redfish Summit that, “We need to hold the people that are responsible for our water degradation accountable and that they pay a price.”

Markett went on to demand that “phosphate needs to be funding the cost of seagrass restoration,” and ended with a dire prediction: “We are one tropical storm away from a disaster of unimaginable proportions.” Agree. And agree.


how you can help tampa bay
Capt Dave Markett speaking during the 2021 FWC Redfish Summit.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” said Capt. Tyler Kapela, a St. Petersburg-based inshore fishing guide. “It’s a negligence and money in politics issue.”  Kapela continued, “We can’t allow this to continue and we must work together to solve this problem.  The future of our sealife, waterways and economy depend on it.”

tampa bay red tide dead fish
A pile of large sportfish collected by Captain Tyler Kapela after being angered by the horrific scene he found himself witnessing during the Tampa Bay red tide event.

Kapela feels like many in the Tampa Bay area and spoke out via many of his videos on Instagram stating, “The science is clear, humans are supercharging red tide, and those responsible for this catastrophe must be held accountable.”

When it comes to getting others involved, Capt. Dustin Pack, a Tampa Bay light tackle guide and board member of the Tampa Bay Waterkeeper organization, said that in the short-term people need to get loud. “The more noise we make the better,” he said. “If you’re not angry yet you better get there fast, because this is a mess.”

tampa bay piney point effects
Captain Dustin Pack discusses the issues facing Tampa Bay concerning pollution and red tide with Head First Fishing.

The lawsuit comes after Florida regulators authorized the discharge of up to 480 million gallons of wastewater from the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack into Tampa Bay following years of regulatory failures and mismanagement. The Piney Point gypstack is a mountain of toxic waste, topped by an impoundment of hundreds of millions of gallons of process wastewater, stormwater and tons of dredged spoil from Port Manatee.

tampa bay red tide 2021
“There were thousands of dead fish. It was sad to see so many different species affected by the red tide,” said John Schiller after sharing disheartening photos of the massive Tampa Bay fish kills in July 2021. 

According to the lawsuit, Piney Point is an ongoing threat to public health and the environment due to:

  1. The discharge of 215 million gallons of toxic wastewater into Tampa Bay, which is now experiencing harmful algae blooms and fish kills;
  2. The threat of catastrophic failure of its impoundments and/or stack system;
  3. The site’s failing liners;
  4. Violations of ground water-quality standards and evidence that dangerous levels of pollution have migrated into the aquifer; and
  5. The choice of an unproven and high-risk wastewater disposal method called deep-well injection to store hazardous waste at Piney Point.




“Recent events at the abandoned Piney Point phosphate plant clearly demonstrate that not enough is being done to safeguard the public or the environment from the devastating impacts that the phosphate industry is having on Florida,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88, Inc. “Piney Point represents the true legacy the phosphate industry will leave behind. There is no economically feasible or environmentally sound way to close an abandoned gyp stack. This legacy includes the perpetual spending of taxpayer monies and risks to the public’s health and the environment.”

Recent events at the abandoned Piney Point phosphate plant clearly demonstrate that not enough is being done to safeguard the public or the environment

“Lawsuits like this shouldn’t be necessary, especially in Florida where so much of the state’s economy and residents’ quality of life are dependent on healthy water quality,” said Annie Beaman, co-executive director of Our Children’s Earth Foundation. “State and local regulators have failed the public for decades and continue to mismanage the waste generated by the phosphate industry. We resort to federal court oversight when decisions by the political branches of government endanger the public. Enforcing basic environmental standards with citizen suits is the best option we have to ensure a healthier future for Tampa Bay, its communities and its wildlife.”

tampa fish kill 2021
So much of Florida's economy and residents’ quality of life are dependent on healthy water quality. Change is not just needed, it's necessary.

In addition to petitions and lawsuits, Andy Mele, MS, an author and environmental scientist who has recently formed the Peace & Myakka Waterkeeper has seven common-sense steps that we should be following to help avoid another Piney Point:

  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 thirty 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.

Unfortunately, much of what Mele lays out requires an elected official to act.  And, that’s been a problem. But that’s exactly where you come in.  It’s time to act.  It’s time to let your local, county, state and federal representatives feel your anger.  Channel your “inner-Markett.”  Don’t hold back.


The grip the phosphate industry has on local, regional and to a degree national politicians is exactly why this issue continues to ooze and fester in our local watersheds.  Anglers need to be united in their opposition to any expansion of phosphate mining in the state as well as in our efforts to drain and seal off the gypstacks now.

Take a minute today to sign this Petition: https://phosphogypsumfreeamerica.org/radioactive-waste

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Tyler Kapela Fishing (@captain_tyler_kapela)

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