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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio: FDEP at fault for keeping sinkhole spill from public

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Times file photo

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.



A state environmental agency’s decision to keep the public in the dark about the leak of 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan Aquifer has seen it come under fire this week from prominent Democrats including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and likely 2018 gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.

Now, a prominent Republican has joined critics of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s handling of the spill. 

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said DEP officials should have told the public earlier about the intrusion of highly acidic water laced with sulfates and sodium into one of the state’s main sources of drinking water. The contamination was the result of a sinkhole opening beneath a phosphate gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Mulberry.

"There's no question that residents should have been informed sooner,” Rubio said. “I understand that Mosaic is working closely with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to monitor and mitigate water that has leaked into the aquifer."

That puts Rubio at odds with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who yesterday defended the performance of his agency while skirting questions about its failure to inform the public.

Mosaic officials say they informed the DEP about the spill on Aug. 28, one day after workers noticed a dramatic drop in water levels at a containment pond holding millions of gallons of acidic water. 

It was only after the sinkhole was reported in the media last week – some three weeks after the initial report - that the DEP publicly acknowledged the spill and announced it would coordinate with Mosaic, which has agreed to pay for a third-party company to test wells on neighboring properties.

State law does not require the agency to report spills where the contamination has not spread off the property.

Rubio, who after his failed presidential bid is running to retain his U.S. Senate seat against Democrat Patrick Murphy, said he wants the public to be kept fully informed about the full extent of the spill.

“Going forward, both Mosaic and the Florida DEP should be transparent with any additional information about its impact, and I expect them to be vigilant in making sure the laws are followed and enforced,” Rubio said. “This will be a lengthy process that must be handled responsibly." 

DEP officials responded to Rubio's comments with the following statement. 

"Our staff was on site to investigate the issues at Mosaic’s New Wales facility less than 24 hours after being notified. DEP continues to be on site frequently and communicates with Mosaic daily to ensure effective response activities are underway and frequent monitoring continues to ensure the health and safety of nearby Floridians."

The agency on Thursday began issuing daily updates on the aquifer contamination.

Rubio earlier this week also criticized leaders of St. Petersburg for the discharge of 150 million gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay. He called for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate that spill.

[Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2016 6:17pm]


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