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US Florida reservoir collapse reveals cracks in environmental protections

01:05  07 april  2021
01:05  07 april  2021 Source:   thehill.com

Leaking toxic Florida reservoir evidence of decades of failure, environmental activists say

  Leaking toxic Florida reservoir evidence of decades of failure, environmental activists say “Whatever could go wrong has gone wrong," a longtime environmental activist said of the reservoir where the leak is occurring.Officials in Manatee County said Monday that a second leak was spotted overnight in the Piney Point Reservoir, about 40 miles south of Tampa. The body of water full of toxic waste and fertilizer runoff is on the brink of collapse. If a total breach happens, the area could see a “catastrophic flood,” Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Sunday.

Environmental and emergency response officials are working frantically to prevent a "catastrophic flood" of a leaking reservoir located on a former phosphate fertilizer processing plant near Tampa Bay, Fla.

a car that has a sign on the side of a road: Florida reservoir collapse reveals cracks in environmental protections © Getty Images Florida reservoir collapse reveals cracks in environmental protections

As of today, hundreds of millions of gallons of heavily contaminated water from the Piney Point plant has been discharged into Tampa Bay to stop the reservoir from collapsing and dumping a 20-foot wall of toxic water into surrounding communities.

While federal officials are working hard to deploy necessary resources, the incident does raise questions about how the Biden administration is working proactively to protect all communities from toxic contamination and environmental emergencies. The Biden administration has taken several preliminary steps to secure clean air, clean water and a healthy environment for all communities, including appointing environmental justice champions to the Council for Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), creating the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and committing to deploy significant resources to disinvested communities. These investments are certainly welcome, however, in light of what could be another significant environmental disaster in Florida, more must be done to protect communities living in close proximity to polluting facilities all around the country. Existing efforts to make meaningful investments in environmental justice communities must be coupled with commitments to reduce pollution at the source and protect communities from dangerous facilities in the face of increased flood and climate risks.

Second possible breach found in Florida wastewater reservoir

  Second possible breach found in Florida wastewater reservoir A possible second leak has been found in a Florida wastewater reservoir that risks flooding nearby communities with millions of gallons of contaminated water, authorities said Monday. Emergency workers, assisted by the Florida National Guard, have been pumping about 33 million gallons of water daily out of a wastewater reservoir at the site, which has sprung a growing leak in its plastic lining. © Handout Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tours the area after a leaking toxic wastewater reservoir threatened nearby homes More than 300 homes near the site of the abandoned phosphate mine and fertilizer-production facility were put under mandatory evacuatio

The release of hazardous materials into surrounding Florida waterways and communities represents a systemic failure across our nation. In 2019, Tropical Storm Imelda flooded dozens of polluting facilities in Southeast Texas, resulting in the release of over 100,000 pounds of toxins, including known carcinogens, into neighboring communities. The following year, a Dow dam collapsed in Midland, Mich., and impacted thousands of residents. The same year in Philadelphia, the largest oil refinery on the East Coast had a major explosion, releasing thousands of pounds of toxic gasses and debris into the surrounding community. Though the refinery is permanently shut down, the impact of the explosion on surrounding residents may not be fully known for years to come.

Stephen King: Piney Point Could Be the 'Disaster Florida Has Been Courting for a Long, Long Time'

  Stephen King: Piney Point Could Be the 'Disaster Florida Has Been Courting for a Long, Long Time' "Money talks and the environment walks," the horror novelist wrote as an official noted the leaking waste "would be less conducive to life on land andlife in the sea."Florida's GOP Governor Ron DeSantis visited the site on Sunday, after declaring a state of emergency a day earlier over the breach at the waste water reservoir in Manatee County. The entire site and a wide area around it has been ordered to evacuate as emergency crews work to pump the waste water into the Tampa Bay in an effort to prevent massive flooding that could be caused by feared structural collapse. Piney Point is located about 40 miles from Tampa's city center.

As the Biden administration looks to reinstate Obama-era rules that would require plants to notify local residents of dangerous chemicals they are storing and work collaboratively on emergency response plans, more must be done. Ensuring that communities near dangerous facilities have a seat at the table is important, but that seat must contain power and agency. Fundamentally, environmental agencies charged with keeping us safe must do a better job of shifting the burden of proof from communities to the types of facilities that place our health and environment in harm's way.

Currently, in fighting with operators who pose significant risks to drinking water, clean air and the health of our neighborhoods, community residents must compete against armies of lawyers, lobbyists and paid experts who assert that facility operations are safe and without risk. The Piney Point catastrophe demonstrates that when the wellbeing of communities are at risk, the government must take a more active role.

Everything Known About the Toxic Pond Water Leak in Piney Point, Florida

  Everything Known About the Toxic Pond Water Leak in Piney Point, Florida The leak was discovered last month in a large pond of wastewater at Piney Point, a former phosphate plant. The DEP said the break was detected in one wall of the 77-acre pond, which holds millions of gallons of wastewater from the Piney Point facility. "The facility was releasing wastewater into Piney Point Creek which leads into Tampa Bay," the Florida DEP wrote in a press release. On April 2, the DEP issued an update on the situation, saying it ordered HRK Holdings, the company that owns the water treatment facility, "to take immediate action and implement necessary steps to ensure integrity of the system.

Existing power imbalances between industries and communities reveal a fundamental problem in the cost-benefit analysis approach of environmental regulations. The costs to industries to protect our environment and secure facilities to withstand flood, climate and unforeseen risks are more closely measured and monitored while the significant negative impacts to communities that accompany inaction and public health deregulation are only seen in the face of a major catastrophe. A safer, more community centered approach is possible. For example, as it relates to toxic substances regulations, the European Union has adopted a precautionary principle that requires companies to prove that their operations and the chemicals they produce are safe before it grants companies access to markets. We should consider this conceptual shift as we work to elevate the voices of communities living on the frontlines of heavily contaminated sites.

Additionally, the Biden administration should also lead the charge in evaluating new methods for paying for environmental cleanup. The Piney Point site was known to be contaminated for many years. Now, in the immediate aftermath of this incident, Florida lawmakers are seeking up to $200 million in federal taxpayer money to clean up the site. While we should certainly be spending more money to clean up sites that pose a threat to our environment, we should do so in a fair way that holds polluters accountable. Currently, one in six Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site. A recent report shows that over 800 of these Superfund sites along the East and Gulf Coasts are at risk of flooding over the next 20 years. If we are to meet the urgent challenge of cleaning up our nation's most toxic sites, federal lawmakers must be willing to stand up to the actors responsible and demand that they foot the bill.

Political disenfranchisement is fueling environmental injustice

  Political disenfranchisement is fueling environmental injustice Environmental injustice exist not out of economic necessity or as the result of difficult choices, but because of neglect and intentional political disenfranchisement. There's much to do if we want to fix this. Thankfully, environmental justice and the related, but distinct, concept of climate justice are now more familiar ideas in federal, state and city circles.That wasn't always the case, and the political ground is now more fertile for real solutions than it's been in a long time. One particular federal fix is gaining ground and could move through the White House this year.

Lastly, in addition to shifting the burden of proof to better capture the risks to communities on the frontlines and devising fairer ways to fund cleanup programs, the Biden administration should also consider using existing authority to encourage the development of strong buffer zones between harmful polluters and the communities they operate in. In the state of Arkansas, for example, hazardous waste management facilities are prohibited from locating within one-half mile of any occupied dwelling. Across our nation, these types of protections are dependent on states and oftentimes exclude other types of facilities that present a significant risk to health and environment. The Biden administration should work to address these gaps so that all Americans, no matter their state, are able to access basic rights of clean air, clean water and a healthy community.

Justin Onwenu is an organizer for The Sierra Club in Detroit. He is also a Public Voices fellow of the OpEd Project and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. You can connect with him on Twitter at @JustinOnwenu.

Ethiopia to go on filling Nile mega-dam despite impasse: minister .
Ethiopia said Wednesday it would not be deterred from impounding water at its Nile mega-dam, despite a persistent impasse with downstream countries worried about their water supply. Downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a threat because of their dependence on Nile waters, while Ethiopia considers it essential for its electrification and development. The latest round of talks concluded Tuesday in Kinshasa with no resolution to long-running disputes over how the dam will be operated.

usr: 4
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