Hundreds of Florida residents in the Tampa Bay area were instructed to evacuate their homes over Easter weekend due to a massive toxic waste leak at an abandoned fertilizer plant in Piney Point.
A little over a week ago, Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee County because of the leak’s threat to surrounding groundwater, soil, and local water supplies. The area, first named after an abundance of the aquatic mammals on its rocky shores, now threatens surrounding marine life with its poisonous spill along with the citizens who have lived down the street of, what residents refer to as, “a ticking time bomb” for decades. According to CBS news, residents are concerned about how this possible flood could affect their property, livestock they have left behind, and most of all, their livelihoods. So how could Florida’s government allow this “long standing issue,” as Gov. DeSantis called it in his address to Manatee County last Sunday, to persist?
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) oversees the regulation of waste storage and destruction in the state. For those who may not know where all this waste comes from, it is simply an accumulation of living how we, as humans, have been. The DEP is given the responsibility to keep this waste away from human life and anything that may result in our harm, however environmental activists are saying this disaster demonstrates years of regulatory failure.
Back in the 1980’s, inorganic phosphate mining had become popular in the south to mass produce synthetic fertilizer used for farming. Now there is a reservoir in Piney Point that sits on top one of these very mining locations, where decades of phosphogypsum waste has been accrued. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informs us that this long, scientific word is used to describe harmful waste made up of radioactive elements, such as uranium, radium, and lead, which then produce a radioactive gas called radon. And according to the EPA, “radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.” In fact the EPA has reported that 90% of phosphate is mined in Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee, leaving the citizens of these states incredibly dependent upon their state regulated environmental protection program.
While Governor DeSantis continues to hold brief conferences on the horrors of this catastrophe, downplaying the possible harm to residents, definite harm to wildlife, and permanent harm to our natural environment, the DEP continues with their painstaking job of pumping hundreds of gallons of water a day out of the reservoir. This job has proved extremely difficult because of past damages to the area from natural disasters and has already resulted in spillages into the soil and nearby creeks, which have been recorded as recently as the 14th on Florida’s DEP website.
Although millions of dollars have been allocated to the DEP to handle this mess, Florida residents worry for their safety and the safety of their children in the years to come. A non-profit environmental activist group who goes by the name Mana-Sota 88 expressed to The Guardian their ongoing dissatisfaction with the 50 years that has passed since phosphate companies have been given the order to dispose of the waste. They claim that there are currently no federal, state, or local regulations requiring the industry to dispose of the phosphate waste in an environmentally responsible manner.
While what is happening in Tampa remains a travesty, we must also recognize that it is a byproduct of our own doing as a nation who has grown dependent on phosphate mining for our agricultural needs, rather than exploring the many different possibilities that exist when it comes to keeping our farms environmentally sustainable. Furthermore, as New Yorkers, we too produce massive amounts of waste and so it is our responsibility to hold the people in charge of legislation accountable for pollution caused by mismanaged waste that can and will affect us in the long run. Disposing of our toxic materials in a dump or landfill only leaves us waiting for a disastrous leak into our atmosphere. Waste to energy plants in several states have helped us to partially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but there is still much to do in order to bring about significant change.