Hillsborough commissioners pass on raising toxin levels in industrial wastewater for now
TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners delayed a vote Thursday that would have raised the acceptable levels of lead and other toxins in wastewater from manufacturing plants and hospitals.
And now one commissioner, Pat Kemp, wants to prevent the levels from increasing, citing environmental concerns.
“There is nobody asking to exceed the current standards so why can’t we keep them at the most stringent?” Kemp said after the meeting.
The proposed update to the county’s industrial wastewater discharge regulation ordinance would raise the limits for nine contaminants — tripling the allowable levels of lead would from 0.15 milligrams per liter to 0.45 milligrams per liter and allowing arsenic levels to more than double. Acceptable levels for one substance, silver, would decrease.
Wastewater from industrial plants is sent to Hillsborough County’s treatment plants, where it is scrubbed of most contaminants before it is used in irrigation or discharged into Tampa Bay.
The County Public Utilities Department has assured commissioners that higher levels will not affect the water quality that leaves treatment facilities. Hillsborough County boasts that the water it discharges into the bay is suitable to drink.
Nevertheless, Public Utilities Director George Cassady said staff will reevaluate their recommendation.
“I’m not sure what the outcome is going to be,” Cassady said.
In a nod to St. Petersburg's wastewater issues, Kemp wondered if a sizeable rain event could lead to untreated or partially treated wastewater with higher level of lead and other toxins getting discharged into the bay.
"My hope is we'll maintain the most stringest requirements," said Kemp, who ran as an environmentalist in her successful campaign last fall.
The county’s industrial wastewater discharge regulation ordinance was created in 1985. About 21 facilities must abide by these standards. Cassady said all of them meet the current standards and none have asked for the legal limits to be raised.
In addition to increasing some contaminant thresholds, the amended ordinance will also implement new regulations on private wastewater treatment facilities for the first time. Janet Dougherty, executive director of the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission, said the change eliminates "a gap that has existed for a long, long time and that’s a positive forward step for the county."
Commissioners will take up the issue again at their Feb. 15 meeting