Stopping Bradenton Sewage Spills

ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS SEND NOTICE OF IMPENDING LAWSUIT TO CITY OF BRADENTON FOR SEWAGE SPILLS TO THE MANATEE RIVER AND OTHER WATERWAYS


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 11, 2021

Bradenton, FL - Suncoast Waterkeeper (“SCWK”), Our Children’s Earth Foundation (“OCE”), ManaSota-88, and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper (“TBWK”) have filed another Sixty-Day Notice of Violations of Clean Water Act and Notice of Intent to File Suit for serious and ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) by the City of Bradenton, which has repeatedly sent raw and partially treated sewage into the Manatee River, storm drains, streams, neighborhoods, and local waters including Wares Creek, Palma Sola Creek, and Palma Sola Bay which flow into Lower Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

A 60-day notice is the required first step of filing a formal lawsuit in Federal Court. Today’s notice to Bradenton follows successful Clean Water Act municipal sewage enforcement cases resulting in settlements with St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Sarasota County and most recently, Largo.  If no resolution is achieved within the 60-day timeframe, litigation will proceed. 

Justin Bloom, founder and a board member of Suncoast Waterkeeper said, “Bradenton’s sewage woes are unfortunate and follow a familiar pattern of municipalities neglecting critical environmental infrastructure.  We hope that Bradenton will follow the path of the other municipalities that we’ve sued and focus their attention of fixing the problems and reducing the sewage pollution that plagues our waterways.”

According to Bradenton’s own reports, within the last four years, over 160 million gallons of raw and partially treated sewage was dumped into the Manatee River, bypassing the City’s treatment plant. Most recently, the City bypassed 13 million gallons in August of 2021.  The City’s sampling data confirms that its bypasses resulted in high levels of fecal coliform and enterococci in the Manatee River.  

Similarly, during that time frame, the City has discharged millions more gallons of raw sewage from their aging sewage collection system, which is plagued by structural deficiencies.  The result is excessive infiltration and inflow of stormwater and groundwater into sewage infrastructure during wet weather, causing repeated sewage spills that not only contain human waste, but also contain various toxic chemicals from the solvents, detergents, cleansers, inks, pesticides, paints, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals discarded by households and businesses into local waterways.  

“Bradenton’s sewage spills pose a serious public health risk in exposing members of the public to sewage-borne pathogens and various toxic pollutants,” said Annie Beaman of Our Children’s Earth.  “This pollution also harms aquatic wildlife and degrades fragile ecosystems. The Manatee River cannot take it, and people deserve clean water. It is time for the City to prioritize water quality. If we invest in clean water now, we can avoid much higher costs to people and the environment in the future.”

These spills contribute to declining conditions in our region’s waterways.  The City of Bradenton’s persistent exceedances of its allocation for Total Nitrogen, its repeated bypasses of millions of gallons of partially treated sewage, and its sanitary sewer overflows of raw and partially treated sewage and reclaimed water have contributed to seagrass losses and to increased harmful algal blooms or “HABs” in the Tampa and Sarasota Bay Estuaries.  The harmful toxins produced as a result of HABs give rise to severe human health consequences, economic and social impacts, as well as harm to the environment.  

“We just endured an incredibly difficult summer, where we witnessed Red Tide kill large quantities of marine life. If we don’t fix these problems, we’re likely to endure more pain in perpetuity.  Red Tide and contamination is hurting our local economy, much of which relies on our waterways, said Glenn Compton, Chairman of ManaSota-88.  “We have to do better for our quality of life and for future generations.”

"These repeat spills have repercussions that affect all of Tampa Bay." said Megan Eakins, Board Chair of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.  "We hope to be a part of the solution in finding ways to mitigate unnecessary nutrient loads and reduce pollution flowing into our waterways."

 

Download the Release Here

For more information, please contact:

 Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper

(941) 275-2922[email protected]

 

Glenn Compton, ManaSota-88

(941) 966-6256, [email protected]

 

Annie Beaman, Our Children’s Earth Foundation 

(510) 910-4535, [email protected]


Lawsuit Launched Against Manatee County Over Proposal to Inject Toxic Waste From Piney Point Phosphogypsum Stack Into Aquifer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fl — Conservation groups sent a notice today of their intent to sue Manatee County for its plan to inject toxic pollutants from the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack into the lower Floridan aquifer.

The notice letter comes six months after the near collapse of the radioactive gypstack prompted state officials to order the emergency evacuation of hundreds of Manatee County homes and to authorize the discharge of wastewater from Piney Point into Tampa Bay.

The 215 million gallons of discharged wastewater spread throughout the estuary and into Sarasota Bay, transporting tons of nitrogen and other pollutants into waterways and communities and spurring a red-tide bloom that killed thousands of tons of marine life, including sea turtles and manatees.

Now Manatee County seeks to inject the remaining waste from the Piney Point gypstack into the lower Floridan aquifer.

“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. “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently approved the expansion of the sinkhole-prone New Wales gypstack, deepening Florida’s commitment to living with these toxic waste sites for generations. It’s easy to envision them granting another deepwell injection permit the next time something else goes wrong.”

Under the Manatee County proposal Piney Point’s radioactive waste would be injected underground into the fragile, porous karst geology that holds the groundwater supplies millions of Floridians depend on for drinking water.

Piney Point was a problematic phosphate fertilizer plant that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Manatee County Port Authority turned into a disposal site for dredge material. After the owner abandoned the property, the department owned and operated Piney Point from 2001 to 2004. During that time, it oversaw the installation of inadequate liners and approved the use of Piney Point for dredged material storage, despite knowing that the gypstacks were not engineered structures and at risk of failure due to foundation settling.

“The phosphate industry and FDEP continue to fail to ensure safe disposal of the industry’s polluted waste,” said Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper founder and board member. “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 fertilizer industry creates more than 30 million tons of phosphogypsum in Florida each year. Phosphogypsum is radioactive and can contain uranium, thorium and radium, which decay into carcinogenic radon. In addition to these radioactive carcinogens, phosphogypsum and process water can contain heavy toxic metals like antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, sulfur, thallium and zinc.

This waste is stored in mountainous piles called gypstacks that are hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall. More than 1 billion tons of the radioactive and toxic waste have already been stored in 25 stacks scattered throughout Florida. The stacks are perched precariously atop the Floridan aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 10 million people. Both active and inactive gypstacks have impoundments of process wastewater sitting atop the mountain of waste.

“There are many problems associated with deepwell injection: Wells are subject to failure and there are too many unknown hazards with injecting phosphogypsum wastewater,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88. “Deepwell 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 deepwell injection request until its hearing on Oct. 6.

“Florida’s officials are gambling with our water quality and our children’s futures,” said Annie Beaman, co-executive director of the 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.”

“It is both unlawful and unwise for Manatee County to inject Piney Point’s hazardous waste into the ground simply for the sake of expediency,” said Daniel Snyder, an attorney with the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C., who is representing the groups. “For too long, Florida regulators have stood by while the situation at Piney Point deteriorated. Now, instead of directly cleaning up this environmental disaster and abating the endangerment it poses, regulators decide to sweep the problem under the geologic rug, putting Florida’s groundwater at risk of significant contamination.”

“There are too many unknowns for this to be our way forward,” said Megan Eakins, board chair of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper. “We need more clarity about injection well risks, the composition of the waste stream, and alternatives to be sure that this is the best way to protect our vulnerable environment and communities from this toxic, radioactive waste.”

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 April release of hundreds of tons of hazardous pollutants from Piney Point into Tampa Bay and groundwater.


Suncoast Waterkeeper & Tampa Bay Waterkeeper Host Forum on Red Tide and Harmful Algae Blooms

Last week, we partnered with Tampa Bay Waterkeeper to present a forum on the causes of red tide and harmful algae blooms and what we can do about them.  You can see the full video of the presentation below. 


Lawsuit Launched Against Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings, Manatee County Port Authority Over Piney Point Disaster

PETERSBURG, Fla.— Conservation groups sent a notice today of their intent to sue the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings and the Manatee County Port Authority for releasing hundreds of tons of toxic pollutants into Tampa Bay and groundwater, endangering the public, marine ecosystems and protected species.

The notice letter comes after the failure, in April, of one of the phosphogypsum stacks at Piney Point — a mountain of toxic waste, topped by an impoundment of hundreds of millions of gallons of process water, stormwater and tons of dredged spoil from Port Manatee. Faced with the impending collapse of the gypstack, state officials ordered the emergency evacuation of hundreds of Manatee County homes and authorized the discharge of up to 480 million gallons of the wastewater into Tampa Bay.

“The Piney Point disaster was the direct result of bad decision-making by Florida regulators,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state has failed miserably in its duty to protect Floridians from the toxic waste at Piney Point and the two dozen other gypstacks threatening our communities. Things have got to change, or these disasters will continue.”

In failing to maintain the gypstacks and storage ponds and approving the discharge of the wastewater, Florida environmental regulators, HRK and the Port Authority violated the Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Endangered Species Act, according to the notice letter.

“Piney Point was and still is a ticking timebomb,” said Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper founder and board member. “Instead of appropriately closing this toxic-waste site when they had the chance, the FDEP allowed the site to become even more perilous, knowing full well the risk of collapse and catastrophic contamination. In addition to calling the site owner, HRK, to be held accountable, the state of Florida needs to be held accountable as well.”

The conservation groups cite a decade of bad decisions by Florida regulators that directly led to the crisis. And they emphasize that Piney Point presents an ongoing danger to human health, drinking water supplies, the regional economy and the environment.

“Phosphate companies have had over 70 years to figure out a way to dispose of the radioactive gypsum wastes in an acceptable manner, but they have yet to do so,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88, Inc. “The need to protect human health and the environment must take precedence over any theoretical economic burden of pollution control.”

Piney Point was a problematic phosphate fertilizer plant that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection turned into a disposal site for dredge material. After the owner went bankrupt and abandoned the property, the agency owned and operated Piney Point from 2001 to 2004, during which time it oversaw the installation of inadequate liners and approved the use of Piney Point for dredged material storage, despite knowing that the Piney Point gypstacks were not engineered structures and at risk of failure due to foundation settling.

Florida regulators ignored the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ advice to reject the dredge proposal due to the gypstacks’ structural uncertainties, the hazardous and toxic material in the stacks, and documented past slope stability and piping issues.

Facing a catastrophic failure of the gypstack in April, Florida officials issued an emergency order authorizing HRK Holdings to discharge up to 480 million gallons of polluted wastewater into Tampa Bay.

“When environmental agencies are asleep at the wheel, average citizens have to step up to do the work of government,” said Annie Beaman, co-executive director of Our Children’s Earth Foundation. “One of the tragedies of Piney Point is that it could and should have been avoided — Florida officials saw this coming and still failed to act. Once again, the Tampa Bay environment is suffering. The public and our ecosystems will bear the brunt of this toxic pollution.”

The 215 million gallons of wastewater dumped into Tampa Bay continue to spread throughout the estuary and into Sarasota Bay, transporting tons of nitrogen and other pollutants into waterways and communities that are already approaching a tipping point, struggling to manage excessive pollution that impairs waterways and losing acres of seagrasses to high concentrations of algae fueled by excessive nitrogen.

The fertilizer industry creates more than 30 million tons of phosphogypsum in Florida each year. Phosphogypsum is radioactive and can contain uranium, thorium and radium, which decay into carcinogenic radon. In addition to these radioactive carcinogens, phosphogypsum and process water can contain heavy toxic metals like antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, sulfur, thallium and zinc.

This waste is stored in mountainous piles called gypstacks that are hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall. More than 1 billion tons of the radioactive and toxic waste have already been stored in 25 stacks scattered throughout Florida. The stacks are perched precariously atop the Floridan aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 10 million people. Both active and inactive gypstacks have impoundments of process wastewater sitting atop the mountain of waste.

Learn more about phosphogypsum and efforts to protect public health and the environment from its harms.

The groups — the Center for Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, ManaSota-88 and Our Children’s Earth Foundation — are represented by the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

ManaSota-88, Inc. is a public interest conservation and environmental protection organization, which is a Florida not-for-profit corporation and a citizen of the State of Florida. The corporate purposes of ManaSota-88 include the protection of the public’s health, the preservation of air and water quality, and the protection of wildlife habitat.

Our Children’s Earth Foundation is a non-profit public interest organization focused on protecting the most vulnerable among us: children, seniors, threatened species and ecosystems. OCE educates the public about environmental problems and empowers affected communities to take action to reduce pollution.

Tampa Bay Waterkeeper works to defend, protect, and preserve Tampa Bay’s watershed through citizen engagement and community action rooted in sound science and research.

Suncoast Waterkeeper works to protect and restore the Florida Suncoast’s waterways through enforcement, fieldwork, advocacy, and environmental education for the benefit of the communities that rely upon these precious coastal resources.

 


Gulf Coast Community Foundation Releases Water Quality Guide

 

"The Gulf Coast Community Foundation has published a first-of-its-kind resource that its leaders hope will “spur and guide community-wide action to transform environmental water quality throughout the Sarasota County region,” the Foundation has announced."...Continue reading the article.

(Image from https://www.waterqualityplaybook.org/)

  

View the Playbook

 



Big Win for Clean Water at the Supreme Court



ST. PETE SETTLES LAWSUIT REGARDING SEWAGE POLLUTION

Suncoast Waterkeeper sued the city under the Federal Clean Water Act.

The Ecological Rights Foundation and Our Children’s Earth joined the group in filing the lawsuit.

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