Monday, April 19

Florida Faces “Imminent” Pollution Catastrophe from Phosphate Mine Pond | US News

Crews were pumping millions of gallons of polluted sewage into an ecologically sensitive Florida bay Sunday as they tried to prevent the “imminent” collapse of a storage tank at a former phosphate mine.

Manatee County officials extended an evacuation zone overnight and warned Sunday that up to 340 million gallons could engulf the area in “a 20-foot wall of water” if they couldn’t repair the gap in the Piney Point Reservoir. in the Tampa Bay area, north of Bradenton. .

Aerial images broadcast on local television showed water gushing from leaks on the walls of the retention pond.

Ron DeSantis, the Governor of Florida, declared a state of emergency after officials warned of the “impending collapseFrom the pond.

He toured the scene by helicopter Sunday morning and told a news conference that engineers were still trying to plug gaps in the reservoir wall with rocks and other materials, and that other mitigation efforts included the controlled release of 35 million gallons daily in Port Manatee.

He said the state’s department of environmental protection (DEP) had added 20 new pumps.

“What we are looking at now is trying to prevent and respond, if necessary, to a real catastrophic flood situation,” DeSantis said. “The water quality problems that result from this for us are less than the risk to the health and safety of everyone, particularly the people who live in the area.”

The governor also tried to downplay reports that the water contained traces of radioactive materials.

“The water was analyzed before discharge [and] the main concern is the nutrients, “he said. “The water meets the water quality standards, the standards for marine waters, with the exception mainly of phosphorus and nitrogen.”

Scott Hopes, the acting county manager, warned at the news conference that despite the low population density, the nearby area could be overwhelmed by a sudden collapse of the 77-acre pond, even though discharges had decreased the amount of water remaining.

“What if we had a total infraction? We are down to about 340 million gallons that could completely break apart in a period of minutes, and models for less than an hour have a head of up to 20 feet of water. ” he said.

“So if you’re in an evacuation area and you haven’t paid attention to that, you need to think twice and follow orders.”

Authorities expanded the evacuation zone late Saturday from a dozen properties to more than 300 homes. The Tampa Bay Times interviewed some residents who were refuse to leave.

The pond at the abandoned phosphate mine sits in a pile of phosphorous gypsum, a radioactive waste product of fertilizer manufacturing. The pond contains small amounts of natural radium and uranium. Batteries can also release large concentrations of radon gas.

Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and the only Democrat elected to state office, warned of an “environmental catastrophe” and called DeSantis, who described the toxic water as “mixed salt waterIn a tweet announcing the state of emergency, to hold an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the state’s response.

Floridians were evacuated from their homes on Easter weekend. 480 Million Gallons of Toxic Wastewater Could End Up in Tampa Bay; this could turn into an environmental catastrophe. ” she said on twitter.

Environmental protection groups warned that more pollutants in Tampa Bay would increase the risk to wildlife from the blooms of toxic red tide algae.

“Phosphate companies have had more than 50 years to find a way to dispose of radioactive plaster waste,” said activist group Mana-Sota 88. “Currently, there are no federal, state or local regulations that require that the industry dispose of phosphorous gypsum waste in an environmentally acceptable manner ”.

In a statement, the group added: “The current crisis dates back to the absurd decision in 2006 to allow dredged material from Port Manatee to be placed in one of the gyp piles at Piney Point, something the pile was never for. designed and should never have been allowed. “

The reservoirs near the old Piney Point phosphate mine, seen from the air Saturday.

The reservoirs near the old Piney Point phosphate mine, seen from the air Saturday. Photograph: Tiffany Tompkins / AP

At Sunday’s press conference, Hopes admitted: “This could have been resolved more than two decades ago.” He said the long-term goal would be to fully pump all three reservoirs at the site and fill them.

Piney Point owner HRK Holdings bought the site after it was abandoned by Mulberry Corporation, which operated the phosphate plant for more than 40 years. As early as 2003, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported, the walls of the warehouse were collapsing. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) previously authorized the dumping of hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic water into the Gulf of Mexico.

At a manatee commission meeting Thursday, convened after the severity of the new leak became clear, engineers pointed to the deterioration of the pond’s decades-old plastic lining.

“The condition of the coating is not particularly good,” Mike Kelley, a commissioned engineer for HRK Holdings, said at the meeting. the Times reported. “It’s old. There were some installation problems. There’s a long, documented history that that siding system has problems.”

The newspaper inspected the site’s records and found that staff documented small holes or weaknesses in the plastic gaskets above the waterline in July, October and December of last year.

On Sunday, DeSantis said HRK would be responsible.

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