Leaking wastewater reservoir threatens Florida community, ocean

Gov. Ron De Santis inspects a failing phosphogypsum storage site near Tampa Bay

On Friday, the Manatee County Public Safety Department warned of an "imminent threat" of an uncontrolled release of wastewater from the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant in Palmetto after a breach was detected in one of the walls of the southern reservoir, which holds about 800 million gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen. That's what would happen within minutes if wall around the retention pond is fully breached, the acting county administrator said; as the Tampa Bay Times reports, efforts to fix the breach causing the leak have so far been unsuccessful.

Officials are trying to prevent "a real catastrophic flood situation" by ensuring the quality of the stack system as quickly as possible, DeSantis told reporters during a press conference Sunday.

A state of emergency was declared after a leak at a waste water reservoir south of Tampa, Florida threatened to flood the area with polluted water.

Manatee County Jail is relocating over 300 inmates due to the water breach at Piney Point.

A portion of the reservoir's retaining wall shifted laterally, which means total structural collapse is possible, Manatee County public safety officials said.

Crews have been discharging water since the pond began leaking in late March. The water is slightly acidic but not to a concerning or toxic level, officials said.

"We're talking about the possibility of around 600 million gallons leaving the detention pool and flowing across the entire area in a matter of seconds and minutes", he added.

Early Sunday, officials saw an increase of water leaking out, but Hopes says it seems to have plateaued. "We are not out of the critical area yet". Depending on the environmental factors surrounding the ponds such as fertilizer runoff and rainfall, among others, this nutrient's levels can vary.


Hopes said he could not rule out that a full breach could also destabilise the walls of the other ponds at the Piney Point site.

"The radiologicals are still below surface water discharge standards".

"We won't be repairing the liner, we will be depleting the holding ponds of their water and then we will be moving forward to a permanent solution into the future once we mitigate the current risk", Hopes said.

Officials said the federal Environmental Protection Agency is sending a representative to be at the command center in Manatee County. State authorities say the water in the breached pond is not radioactive.

ABC News could not immediately reach a representative for HRK Holdings for comment.

Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of fertilizer production and is considered weakly radioactive as it contains naturally occurring isotopes such as radon.

"We hope the contamination is not as bad as we fear but are preparing for significant damage to Tampa Bay and the communities that rely on this precious resource", Justin Bloom, founder of the Sarasota-based nonprofit organization Suncoast Waterkeeper, said in a statement.

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