© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Phosphate processing plants in the greater Tampa Bay region have caused some of Florida's worst environmental disasters. Accidents like the spill at the former Piney Point plant fill the history books in Florida.

Environmental Groups Are Suing Manatee County Over The Piney Point Wastewater Injection

Aerial view of Piney Point gypstack
Center for Biological Diversity
Piney Point south gypstack

They intend to prevent the injection of hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted wastewater from the Piney Point phosphate plant into the underground aquifer.

A coalition of environmental groups said Wednesday they will sue Manatee County over its plans to inject polluted water from the Piney Point phosphate plant into the underground aquifer.

The notice comes after county officials said that injecting the water into the lower Floridan aquifer was the best method to remove about 273 million gallons of wastewater remaining in the gypsum stack.

“This risky, shortsighted plan would be a dangerous experiment and set a troubling precedent for how we handle failing phosphogypsum stacks,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

More than 200 million gallons of polluted water flowed into Tampa Bay beginning in late March, after a tear was discovered in one of the stack's liners.

Manatee County commissioners had been scheduled to discuss the injection well at their Tuesday meeting, but the meeting was cancelled.

The state Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft permit on Sept. 1 to Manatee County for the deep well’s construction.

Five environmental advocacy groups are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In June, the groups filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis, the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings, LLC and the Manatee County Port Authority for the release of pollutants into Tampa Bay.

“The phosphate industry and FDEP continue to fail to ensure safe disposal of the industry’s polluted waste,” said Justin Bloom, found of Suncoast Waterkeeper, one of the plaintiffs. “Manatee County shouldn’t ‘carry their water’ at Piney Point, particularly where there is no plan to remove legacy toxic and radioactive contaminants before dumping millions of gallons of wastewater down the well.”

The local environmental group ManaSota-88 is another plaintiff.

"There are many problems associated with deep-well injection: Wells are subject to failure and there are too many unknown hazards with injecting phosphogypsum wastewater,” said Glenn Compton, the group's chairman. “Deep-well injection is done because liquid wastes cannot be discharged into surface waters, thus the worst wastes end up in these wells.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is accepting comments on Manatee County’s deep-well injection request until its hearing at the Manatee County Central Library on Oct. 6.

“Florida’s officials are gambling with our water quality and our children’s futures,” said Annie Beaman, co-executive director of Our Children’s Earth Foundation. “Manatee County’s proposal relies on guesswork regarding the long-term risks of injecting this dangerous pollution deep underground. For too long, the phosphate industry has taken advantage of lax regulations, bankruptcy laws that unfairly benefit corporate interests, and other legal loopholes. We need better.”

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.