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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pollution notice bill inspired by sinkhole passes Legislature

An aerial of a massive sinkhole that opened up underneath a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry has dumped at least 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan aquifer.

Times/Jim Damaske

An aerial of a massive sinkhole that opened up underneath a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry has dumped at least 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan aquifer.

A bill irequiring industry and government to notify the public quickly of any pollution problems has passed both houses of the Legislature and is headed for Gov. Rick Scott. Scott, who called for the change in the law, will definitely sign it.

The bill, SB 532, was inpsired by the sinkhole at Mosaic's Mulberry phosphate plant  and St. Petersburg's sewage disaster.

The sinkhole, in particular, drove Scott's desire for the bill. When it opened up in August 2016 and swallowed 215 million gallons of contaminated water, dumping it into the aquifer, neither Mosaic nor Scott's own Department of Environmental Proteciton told the public about it for three weeks. The reason? State law did not require them to do so unless the pollution was detected outside the polluter's property boundaries. Mosaic (but not the DEP) later apologized for the delay.

The delay in St. Petersburg officials reporting the tens of millions of gallons of sewage that the city's aging wastewater system released into Tampa Bay after Hurricane Hermine bothered Scott as well.

"It does not make sense that the public is not immediately notified when pollution incidents occur," Scott said last year.

Scott's original solution called for the polluter to notify the public of any spills, but the bill that passed the House and Senate was amended to say that any spills must be reported to the DEP, which will then post the announcement on a special website and circulate it to anyone who signs up for a subscription to such announcements. 

Scott had also directed the DEP to make an emergency change to its own rules to require a 24-hour public notice from industry. But industry groups opposed that change, and persuaded a judge that it was illegal.

 

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 3, 2017 3:38pm]

    

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