Following two recent incidents, a new emergency rule has been enacted in Florida to ensure that the public, local governments and the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) are notified by all responsible parties following a pollution incident.
On August 28, 2016, Mosaic Fertilizer (“Mosaic”) notified DEP of suspected damage to a gypsum stack liner located at its New Wales Concentrate Plant, which ultimately created a sinkhole that released processed water into the underlying groundwater. While DEP responded to the site within 24 hours to assess potential response actions, the public did not learn of the issue until three weeks later. Also, although DEP reports indicated that no contamination had migrated off-site and therefore no public notification was required under the applicable Florida regulations, many residents remained concerned about the mere possibility of off-site contamination and the timeliness of Mosaic’s public notice.
Thereafter, on September 7, 2016, unauthorized discharges of domestic wastewater were released into Tampa Bay by facilities operated by the City of St. Petersburg, in Pinellas County. Similar to the Mosaic sinkhole, the public and environmental stakeholders expressed concerns about the accuracy and timeliness of information provided to the public by City officials.