Home Environment 3 Lessons Learned From Florida’s Pine Point Disaster

3 Lessons Learned From Florida’s Pine Point Disaster


In April 2021, Florida was looking at an immediate environmental disaster. Pine Point Phosphogypsum Stack just south of Tampa and began spilling millions of gallons of toxic, nutrient-rich, possibly radioactive wastewater into Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

This spelled impending doom for local coastal habitats, which include mangroves, sea grass beds and oyster reefs, as well as countless aquatic animal species ranging from manatees and sea turtles to dolphins, otters and gamefish.

For several days, Pine Point threatened local neighborhoods and human life – at one time there were fears of a complete collapse of the Pine Point facility, which caused 20 feet of water to flood people’s homes in the surrounding areas. could leave the wall. .

Fortunately, that human exposure subsided, but by the time the breach was closed, hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic material had already spilled into the Gulf. The real environmental catastrophe was just beginning to unfold.

From the outset, the Pine Point disaster prompted a widespread response and local groups have been working tirelessly to determine the impacts on our shores. Tampa Bay Waterkeeper and Suncoast Waterkeeper were immediately on the water and shedding light on what was happening at Pine Point to see the world. tampa bay estuary program and Sarasota Bay Estuary Program The leak resulted in rapid data collection, testing and monitoring of waters in the Gulf. Researchers from the University of South Florida College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg are collecting data and Conducting significant modeling to determine Where will the poisonous water go and what will be its effect.

Ocean Conservation responds in collaboration with University of Florida Coastal Solutions Center To conduct major isotopic tests to measure the full scope of impacts on wildlife from the Pine Point spill and to determine effects on macroalgae and harmful algae blooms such as red tides.

Our Partnership with the University of Florida Supplements and enhances the critically important data collection already being carried out by estuary programs and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and will fill in gaps in the data to provide a clearer picture of the effects of the Pine Point spill on the marine environment in Florida. .

But there is much more to learn from Pine Point—we need to shape how we respond to the inevitable similar events that may happen in the future. Florida needs to be prepared. Here’s what I see as the most important lesson I’ve learned so far:

1. Tropical weather is becoming more frequent and more severe and will cause more toxic spills alike at Pine Point

Warmer water temperatures cause more frequent and more severe tropical weather. Hurricane season officially begins on June 1, and it is becoming more common for the tropical season to begin in May. 2021 is no exception – we have already named storms in May of this year.

Hurricanes, tropical storms, tropical depressions—even a really bad afternoon thunderstorm—can cause piles of phosphogypsum to break off. The warmer the gulf and ocean, the worse the weather; The worse the weather, the more likely it is to spread.

We need to clean up sites like Pine Point, and we need to protect and buffer our beaches from rising seas. That means investing in smart development, adaptive coastal management and resilient gray infrastructure, along with investments in green infrastructure such as mangroves, coral reefs, dunes, seagrass flats and oyster beds. Floridians need flexibility to be their mantra because a rising sea won’t wait for us to bring it all together and we, as Floridians, want to preserve that iconic coastal environment we all love .

2. Responding to environmental tragedies is not enough—we need to be prepared for them

Governor DeSantis pledged more than $15 million to clean up the Pine Point facility, and the state legislature has invested an additional $100 million in the annual budget to support cleanup efforts. That’s great—it’s money that needs to be spent to solve this particular problem. But it’s responsive in nature, and it’s like pointing a sharpened gun at a house fire—the actual cost associated with cleaning Pine Point is closer to $200 million. In addition, there are about two dozen similar phosphogypsum facilities in Florida, and this does not take into account the litany of other components of the human environment that may fail and threaten Florida’s ecosystems, whether it is agriculture, heavy industry, sewers or Be septic.

We need to be proactive in Florida and we need to prepare to face the environmental threats that are coming down the pike.

3. Floridians from all walks of life and the political spectrum need to band together and fight for Florida’s ocean and coasts

Pine Point’s response was really encouraging, but it’s just a taste of the Florida-wide response we needed. This time, it was Tampa Bay; But a tragedy is also unfolding in the Indian River Lagoon with seagrass deaths and manatee mortalities; There have been fish deaths in Biscayne Bay in the past year; And the FWC commissioners have had to close the iconic Apalachicola oyster fishery in the Panhandle to allow it to recover due to the lack of fresh water flowing out of Alabama and Georgia.

Wherever you look, danger is imminent—and we need Floridians from all walks of life, regardless of your party affiliation or your political identity, to step up. and speak for Florida’s ocean and coasts.

Post 3 Lessons Learned From Florida’s Pine Point Disaster first appeared ocean protection.

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