State Of Emergency, Evacuations In Florida County Over Wastewater Pond Leak

Paola Ditto
Aprile 5, 2021

The pond where the leak was found is in a stack of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product from the manufacture of fertiliser.

The owner of Piney Point, HRK Holdings, bought the site after it was abandoned by the Mulberry Corporation, which operated the phosphate plant for more than 40 years.

DeSantis on Saturday declared a state of emergency in Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties against the possibility as state and local officials oversaw evacuations.

Officials are rolling out a response plan that includes controlled discharges of mixed seawater into Port Manatee to relieve pressure and maintain the integrity of the stack system, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Scott Hopes, the acting administrator of Manatee County, warned on Sunday that modelling had suggested a full breach of reservoir walls would release a surge "as high as a 20-foot wall of water" into the area.

Workers have been pumping out thousands of gallons per minute at the site to bring the volume down in the event the pond bursts. It contains small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium, and the stacks also can release large concentrations of radon gas, according to the AP. Florida's National Guard is in the process of dropping off pumps to redirect the water into surrounding waterways.

Fried details in her letter how previously-known poor maintenance by current and former phosphate mine owners have created a unsafe situation for local residents, communities and even state-managed lands and waters.

Officials said the 77-acre (31-hectare) reservoir holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant.

The concerns for the quality of the water being discharged are now "less than the risk of everyone's health and safety" due to the potential for flooding, DeSantis said Sunday. More than 300 homes have been evacuated, he added.

After the threat is mitigated, the wall will not be repaired, and all of the holding ponds on the property will be drained of water and likely filled, Hopes said during the press conference on Sunday.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to convene an emergency meeting of the Florida Cabinet to discuss the evacuation of Manatee County residents and the environmental crisis at the Piney Point phosphate mine. The issue has been "ongoing for decades", he added. Now about 22,000 gallons of water are being discharged per minute, and Hopes said he expects the risk of collapse to decrease by Tuesday.

"It's not acceptable", DeSantis said.

But the EPA says too much nitrogen in the wastewater causes algae to grow faster, leading to fish kills.

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