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Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried blasts state DEP over gypsum stacks

"Is DEP simply a rubberstamp for permits?" Fried asked.

TAMPA, Fla — Florida Agriculture Commissioner, and gubernatorial candidate, Nikki Fried is blasting the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Fried says the DEP isn’t doing enough when it comes to regulating those huge phosphogypsum stacks like the one at Piney Point.

“Expanding these permits is not the answer. Deep well injections are not the answer,” she said during a virtual press conference.

Fried added she’s frustrated with the DEP’s lack of response after filing thousands of complaints, and she’s also concerned about applications to expand phosphogypsum operations in parts of the state.

“At some point, the Department of Environmental Protection has to actually start protecting the environment,” she said. “Is DEP simply a rubberstamp for permits? Or are they actually looking to check proactive stances on issues and actually protect the environment?”

RELATED: What is phosphogypsum?

The gypsum stack issue most recently got attention when a potential breach at Piney Point threatened nearby communities. Millions of gallons of contaminated water ended up in Tampa Bay — arguably playing a role in fueling red tide.

Other incidents include a massive sinkhole in a gypsum stack at Mosaic’s New Wales facility in 2016 which raised concerns about the aquifer and people’s drinking water.

“Accidents happen,” said Gil Smart with the environmental group Friends of the Everglades. “And when you have an industry as problematic as the phosphate industry is, those accidents can be horrific. And that’s something that regulators really do need to take into account.”

RELATED: Piney Point: How did we get to this emergency?

Desoto County Commissioner J.C. Deriso also joined the conversation.

Although there are no gypsum stacks being proposed there right now, DeSoto County sits right on the Peace River. So, the commission is considering an ordinance to prohibit the stacks.

“It’s been a concern of our community but also the folks downstream from us all benefit with our drinking water from the river,” said Deriso. “So, it seems like a good move.”

The stacks are a byproduct of phosphate mining, a chemical used to make fertilizers. But critics say each ton produced creates five tons of gypsum. The stacks continue to grow as do the number of applications to expand production.

RELATED: EPA withdraws rule allowing phosphogypsum in road construction

“There is literally nothing else we can do with that other than pile it up. And the more that we have, the higher those piles have to be,” said Smart.

“These stacks are ticking time bombs in our communities that will threaten our environment for generations to come,” said Fried.

10 Tampa Bay has reached out to the Florida DEP for their response to Commissioner Fried’s comments and criticism, but so far, the agency has not replied.

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