Friday, 16 April, 2021

'Imminent' reservoir wall collapse threatens to pollute Tampa Bay

Florida Governor Ron De Santis conducting a helicopter tour of the area affected by a leaking reservoir that threatens to spill millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater Radioactive wastewater leak prompts evacuation in Florida
Ginger Lawrence | 05 April, 2021, 12:38

A wall of contaminated water could flood the area if the breach in the pond at an old mine bursts.

Ron DeSantis said Sunday that crews are working to prevent the collapse of a large wastewater pond near Tampa Bay while evacuating the area to avoid a "catastrophic flood".

Gov. Ron DeSantis took an aerial view on Easter Sunday of the situation at an old phosphate facility that's at risk of catastrophic collapse and said the state would hold the owners responsible for any damage to the environment or nearby homes and businesses from any discharge of polluted water. Authorities expanded the evacuation area later on Saturday to include more homes, but said they were not planning to open shelters. Some families were placed in local hotels.

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

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says the water in the pond is primarily salt water mixed with wastewater and storm water. That discovery escalated the response and prompted the first evacuations and a declaration of a state of emergency on Saturday.

"A portion of the containment wall at the leak site shifted laterally", said Manatee Director of Public Safety Jake Saur, "signifying that structural collapse could occur at any time".

"We are talking about the potential of about 600 million gallons (2.3 billion liters) within a matter of seconds and minutes leaving that retention pool and going around the surrounding area", Hopes said.

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Early Sunday, officials saw an increase in the water leaking out, but Hopes says it seems to have plateaued. Specifically, he said, looking at the water that has been eliminated and somewhat stability of the present breach, he thinks the team is much more comfortable now than they were previously. He added though, that "we are not out of the critical area yet".

Hopes explained he could not rule out that an entire breach could disrupt the walls of other ponds located at the Piney Point site. The water meets "water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen", according to the Florida DEP.

"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.

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

The owner, HRK Holdings, did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Mr DeSantis denied that the water was radioactive. Some algal blooms can also harm humans who come into contact with polluted waters, or eat tainted fish.

The pond where the leak was discovered is at the old Piney Point phosphate mine, sitting in a stack of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertiliser that is radioactive.