Businesses bucked Gov. Rick Scott’s rule to notify public about pollution

A large sinkhole on the Mosaic Co. property Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Mulberry, Fla. sending cascades of contaminated water and fertilizer plant waste into Florida’s main drinking-water aquifer. It took weeks for residents to be notified about the disaster. (Chris O’Meara, AP)

Orlando Sentinel by Jason Ruiter

August 6, 2017

In April, workers cleaned up 341,000 gallons of raw sewage released because of a pipe break near neighborhoods south of Clermont.

Another 2,000 gallons containing water-purifying chemicals were spilled in June at SeaWorld’s new Aquatica water park.

The two events were among more than two dozen pollution incidents in Central Florida in the first half of the year. None were reported to local media after complaints from industry associations led to a new 24-hour public notice requirement for pollution spills — sparked by a Polk County spill — to be overturned.

But the judge’s decision led to a new law that open-government advocate Barbara Petersen said is an improvement over the situation that existed before the short-lived requirement on polluters. The law allows the media and anyone else to sign up for alerts about pollution incidents, a process that didn’t previously exist.

While it’s not as good direct notification to the media, it’s “better than where we are now,” said Petersen, who supported the legislation.

It came about after an administrative law judge on Dec. 30 tossed out the rule that had been in place for just three months after business groups said the requirement to notify the media was an expensive burden on companies — an argument Petersen disputed.

“The fact that they just argue money and inconvenience is irrelevant to me,” said Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee. “We don’t want a Flint, Michigan.”

In 2014, thousands of children in Flint were exposed to lead in drinking water, sparking a firestorm because the contamination wasn’t acknowledged for more than a year.

Gov. Rick Scott took action after more than 200 million gallons of contaminated water last year seeped into the Floridan aquifer — a source of much of the state’s drinking water — from a sinkhole at the Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry, 80 miles southwest of downtown Orlando.

The state Department of Environmental Protection learned of the Aug. 272016, spill within a day, but the public wasn’t informed for 19 days. [READ MORE]

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