Piney Point captured national headlines last year when the massive phosphogypsum stack began leaking toxic water, threatening Tampa Bay residents and the environment. The leaking water drained into Tampa Bay, leading to an extended and costly red tide outbreak in the bay.
To help residents stay informed on issues with the nearby gypsum stacks, Representative Ben Diamond (D- St. Petersburg) teamed with Senator Jeff Brandes (R- St. Petersburg) filing legislation to improve the abatement efforts.
“We know how important our water is here in Tampa Bay,” said Diamond, a lifelong bay area resident.
After witnessing the Piney Point catastrophe, Diamond attended Florida Department of Environmental Protection meetings to see how the DEP planned to prevent future disasters.
Working across the aisle with Brandes, who introduced SB 1744 in the senate, Diamond hopes the bills will allow Florida residents accessible information when there are threats to drinking water and public health.
HB 1339 and SB 1744 require the DEP to notify the Florida Division of Emergency Management, county commissioners, and emergency officials in the county where the stack is located within 24 hours of an issue.
The legislation also directs the Florida DEP to create and maintain a publicly accessible online database listing all phosphogypsum stacks by county, along with summaries of inspections, imminent hazards, abatement actions, and material violations.
Diamond said it’s important to let constituents know of issues that may affect them as soon as possible.
The new bills will establish guidelines for reporting incidents as well as the aforementioned accessible database, an annual risk evaluation, and the expedited notification if there’s a threat.
“It’s shocking that there’s been no evaluation now,” said Jacklyn Lopez, of the Center for Biological Diversity’s St. Petersburg office. “It’s a good start, but I’d like to see more aggressive action.”
“Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Florida has a history of valuing transparency in government. This is an issue best resolved with transparency and public accountability,” Brandes said in recent press.
”Right now,it’s hard to find risk assessments,” Diamond agreed. “We need more transparency. And this bill does that.”