Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Calls on EPA to Oversee Toxic Waste at Piney Point

Oct 20, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan today called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oversee efforts to dispose of toxic wastewater at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant.

In a letter to the EPA Regional Administrator Kathy Walker , Buchanan asked the agency to enforce federal rules that govern the storage and cleanup of hazardous materials.

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.

“My congressional district faces a potential environmental nightmare that requires immediate federal attention,” Buchanan said in his letter. “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.”

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.

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. 

“Clean water and protecting our environment are critical to our quality of life in Southwest Florida,” Buchanan continued. “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.”

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 phosphogypsum stacks and complete the closure of the stacks in accordance with Florida statutes. 

Read the full text of the letter below:

Dear Ms. Walker:

My congressional district faces a potential environmental nightmare that requires immediate federal attention. Contaminated water from a long-abandoned phosphate processing plant is threatening to leak into our region's water supply.

I am writing to request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversee efforts to properly and safely dispose of the toxic waste at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant located in Manatee County. I also ask that you enforce any federal rules that govern the storage and cleanup of hazardous materials.

The Piney Point fertilizer plant opened in 1966 and was abandoned in 2001. Since then, the various stakeholders have failed to agree on a solution to safely drain the property’s phosphogypsum stacks. 

Meanwhile, millions of gallons of contaminated water have 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. 

Clean water and protecting our environment are critical to our quality of life in Southwest Florida. Federal oversight is needed to ensure the safe management and disposal of the contaminated water and prevent another environmental disaster. 

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. 

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. 

Sincerely,

Vern Buchanan

Member of Congress