Rep. Gwen Graham demands answers for toxic sinkhole

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Rep. Gwen Graham wrote an open letter to Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection Secretary, Jonathan Steverson, following the toxic sinkhole that has affected Florida communities and the environment.

“I was extremely disappointed to learn the Department of Environmental Protection had known about this toxic sinkhole for almost a month before taking measures to alert the public. The DEP should warn Florida families of potential contamination before they’re drinking toxic water, not after it’s been contaminated,” Rep. Graham said. “Their excuse for inaction – that they weren’t legally required to do so – is appalling. It’s an excuse we should expect from a special interest group – not from a group whose only interest should be protecting Florida’s environment and citizens.”

Local residents did not learn of the sinkhole until almost three weeks after it happened when the media began reporting on it. The toxic sinkhole is 300-foot-deep and located in Polk County.

A copy of the letter is as follows:

"Dear Secretary Steverson:

I was troubled to learn that the public was not immediately notified about possible groundwater contamination from more than 200 million gallons of industrial waste leaked into a sinkhole at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Polk County. Given the potential consequences, I urge you to conduct a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the leak and to ensure the site is fully remediated to prevent long-term environmental and public health risks.

Media has reported that the leak was discovered by plant personnel and reported to county, state and federal officials nearly a month ago. Yet, most of the general public did not become aware of the potential problem until it was reported by the press last Friday, September 16. Your office claims to have followed notification requirements prescribed by current law, but I believe the Department of Environmental Protection has a greater responsibility to the public. When public health is at risk, the state has a duty to notify nearby residents as soon as possible and before their wells are polluted so they can take appropriate action.

I urge you to exercise your full ability to investigate the causes of and response to the leak by public and private stakeholders. If this was purely an unforeseen natural event, we may still be able to take action to prevent future incidents. If this leak was inadvertently man-made, we need to know that so we can keep it from happening again. If there was mismanagement either before or after the fact, we need to hold the responsible parties accountable. Only a thorough and timely investigation can answer these questions.  

Most importantly, we need to do everything we can to clean up the damage that has been done. The substances reported to have leaked from the site are potentially harmful to people and the environment. Given the enormous size of the leak, I expect this remediation to be a substantial undertaking, but it is essential. As we have learned from the contamination of Florida springs and pollution in the Everglades, the hydrology of Florida is uniquely connected. All Floridians are heavily invested in this clean up. Please use your authority to make sure it is done thoroughly and completely.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you.

Sincerely,

Gwen Graham"

 

(© 2016 WTSP)


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