TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Following the toxic wastewater leak at Piney Point that made national headlines, Florida lawmakers are launching a bipartisan effort to improve the emergency response to imminent hazards involving phosphogypsum stacks.
Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St. Pete) and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Pete) say the Piney Point saga paved the way for the substantial red tide bloom last summer in the Tampa Bay region.
In response, they've filed a pair of bills to improve abatement efforts and streamline communication. HB 1339 and SB 1744 would force the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to alert the state's Division of Emergency Management, relevant county commissioners and the particular county's emergency management leadership within 24 hours of learning there was an "imminent hazard" at a phosphogypsum stack.
"To prevent environmental catastrophes like what happened at Piney Point and the red tide bloom in Tampa Bay that followed, we have to be honest with Floridians and the local governments that serve them about the imminent hazards posed by phosphogypsum stacks," Rep. Diamond wrote in a statement.
Diamond says the goal is to give people living near these stacks as much time as possible to prepare for any health and environmental consequences that could arise. If passed and signed into law, the legislation would instruct the Florida DEP to build a publicly-available online database listing all phosphogypsum stacks in Florida. It would include inspection information, as well as details about any hazards, abatement actions or violations.
"Our legislation will ensure local governments and the citizens of our state can easily access information about these risks before they wash up on our shores," Diamond added.
According to Sen. Brandes, the legislation would help pull back the curtain for regular Floridians who are living near these sites.
“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Brandes wrote in a statement. “Florida has a history of valuing transparency in government. This is an issue best resolved with transparency and public accountability.”