Potential environmental catastrophe as Florida emergency crews rush to plug leak in contaminated water reservoir from flooding homes

Miami, April 5 2021: A possible environmental disaster from a leaking reservoir in Florida was being averted as emergency crews in central Florida were working to contain contaminated water that risked polluting contaminated wastewater toward nearby homes and into the Tampa Bay.

More than 300 homes near the site of an abandoned phosphate mine and fertilizer-production facility in Manatee County were under mandatory evacuation orders, and Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency to free up funds to tackle the crisis.

He said emergency workers, assisted by the Florida National Guard, were pumping about 33 million gallons of water daily out of a wastewater reservoir at the site, which has sprung a growing leak in its plastic lining.

According to DeSantis, the wastewater “meets water-quality standards for marine waters,” with the exception of phosphorous and nitrogen levels. Marine algae thrive on such elements, and environmental groups fear the release of millions of gallons of nutrient-rich water into the ocean could trigger a deadly “red tide,” or algal bloom, that can suffocate fish and other aquatic life and deter tourist activity.

Manatee County’s acting administrator Scott Hopes said inmates and staff at the local jail had been moved to the second floor of the two-story building as a precaution.

A collapse of the reservoir also risked sending water into nearby stacks of phosphogypsum, a leftover from fertilizer production. Phosphogypsum is considered radioactive as it contains isotopes such as radon, as well as toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury.

The Center for Biological Diversity national conservation group called for the US Environmental Protection Agency to step in.

Problems at the Piney Point reservoir stretch back decades. Florida’s agriculture commissioner, Nicole Fried, wrote to DeSantis, saying the current emergency was only the latest in a string of incidents. She said the central Florida mining operation has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents.

Hopes said authorities were looking to permanently empty reservoirs at the site. DeSantis said the company operating the site, HRK Holdings, should be held accountable. HRK did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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