Crist Urges NASA Monitoring of Piney Point

U.S. Representative Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) sent a letter to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) asking for assistance in monitoring and imaging of Tampa Bay and the surrounding area, specifically at Piney Point and Port Manatee where toxic discharges are occurring.

Last week, a leak was detected at the abandoned Piney Point phosphate plant, threatening catastrophic collapse of the walls holding back 480 million gallons of toxic water. To prevent a collapse, Florida has been pumping millions of gallons of contaminated water into Tampa Bay, raising major concerns over the impacts the toxic water will have on marine wildlife and the threat of harmful algae blooms.

“The disaster unfolding at Piney Point is all too familiar for the people of Florida and the Gulf Coast, who have watched their beloved beaches and coastlines be devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and increasingly severe red tide outbreaks. We know that the most valuable resource we have in a disaster is time, so it's crucial we act quickly,” said Rep. Crist. “NASA monitors for harmful algae and helps inform algae bloom forecasts and hasten response times. Given the millions of gallons of toxic, nutrient-rich water the State is dumping into Tampa Bay, we need NASA to be closely monitoring the situation. While we pray for the best, we should treat this disaster with the gravity it deserves.”

The Tampa Bay region is still recovering from one of the longest and most severe red tide outbreaks on record. The 2017-2019 bloom killed hundreds of tons of fish, sickened countless people and marine life, and hammered Florida’s economy.

A member of the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee, Crist has led on the issue of red tide in Congress, most recently securing $13 million for red tide research. In addition to:

A pdf of the letter to NASA can be found here, with text appearing below.

April 7, 2021

Steve Jurczyk, Acting Administrator
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
300 E St SW
Washington, DC 20546

Dear Acting Administrator Jurczyk,

I write to bring your attention to the potentially disastrous situation unfolding at Piney Point, an abandoned phosphate plant located in Manatee County, Florida on Tampa Bay.  In an effort to prevent a collapse in one of the plant’s phosphogypsum stack containment walls holding back toxic water, Governor DeSantis directed the State to discharge the water into Tampa Bay.  The State reports that the discharged water fails marine standards for pH, phosphorus, nitrogen, and ammonia nitrogen.  I worry that dumping millions of gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay may have severe consequences, including increased risk of harmful algae blooms (HAB) in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. 

As you know, NASA’s Landsat satellites are critical tools for early detection and tracking of HABs.  They are quite literally our bird’s eye view over threatened bodies of water.  As a member of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, I am proud to support NASA – not just the Human Exploration Program but also the critical science missions NASA supports.  NASA was an important partner during the 2017-2019 red tide outbreak that plagued Pinellas County, and my constituents are once again counting on NASA to be their eye in the sky.  In partnership with the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA images help identify HABs earlier and improve HAB forecasts.  Early warning saved an estimated $370,000 in health care costs during a 2017 HAB outbreak in Utah.  I encourage NASA surveillance not only over Tampa Bay and the nearby coast in the Gulf of Mexico, but also specifically at Piney Point and Port Manatee where the discharges are occurring.  In addition, I encourage NASA to capture images of Piney Point, Port Manatee, and Tampa Bay and update those images with each overhead pass of a Landsat.  This will help identify possible trouble earlier and assure my constituents who are concerned about our water.  We will continue praying for the best, knowing full well that NASA remains on the lookout.  Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.



Charlie Crist

CC: Senator Bill Nelson

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