Piney Point UPDATE: Lawsuit to be filed against Florida DEP, HRK Holdings, Manatee County Port Authority

The DEP is continuing to monitor the situation at Piney Point
The DEP is continuing to monitor the situation at Piney Point(DEP)
Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 10:08 AM EDT
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PALMETTO, Fla. (WWSB) - Several conservation groups announced Tuesday they will be filing a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings and the Manatee County Port Authority for releasing pollutants into Tampa Bay and groundwater, endangering residents and potentially causing severe damage to marine life.

The announcement follows the failure of one of the phosphogypsum stacks in April that led to evacuations and the threat of 480 million gallons of the wastewater going into Tampa Bay.

Justin Bloom, the founder and board member of Suncoast Waterkeeper released a statement to the media. “Piney Point was and still is a ticking timebomb. 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.”

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

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

When faced with potential collapse, Florida officials issued an emergency order authorizing HRK Holdings to discharge the wastewater into Tampa Bay. Biologists say this is a danger to marine life.

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.

The plaintiffs of 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 DEP released the following statement to ABC7:

While we cannot comment on pending litigation, what I can tell you is the department is committed to holding HRK Holdings Inc. and all involved parties accountable for this event, as well as ensuring the closure of this site once and for all so that this is the final chapter of Piney Point. DEP remains engaged in first response activities at the site for the protection of public health and safety.

To be clear, this site is privately owned by HRK Holdings Inc., who is responsible for the site’s short and long-term care in accordance with all state regulations.

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