Florida wastewater pond's 'imminent' overflow leads to evacuations and emergency order

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Manatee County on Saturday because of a leak at a wastewater storage pond, the collapse of which officials called “imminent.”

The Manatee County Public Safety Department said in an alert there is an “imminent threat” of uncontrolled release of wastewater from the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant in Palmetto.

Emergency evacuation notices were released Friday evening, and locals living within a 1 mile radius have been asked to evacuate.

“Evacuate area NOW. Collapse of Piney Point Stack Imminent!” an alert from county officials released at 11 a.m. Saturday said.

Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said it could take between 10 to 12 days for the situation to stabilize, according to Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS.

PHOTO: Wastewater is suspected to be leaking at the old Piney Point phosphate plant at the water management at HRK Holdings' property, in Palmetto, Fla., March 30, 2021.

County officials said a breach was detected Friday in one of the walls of the pond that holds about 800 million gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant, according to The Associated Press. As of Saturday morning, an estimated 390 million gallons remained in the reservoir, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection said.

The pond contains stacks of phosphogypsum, a radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer. 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.

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 DEP.

PHOTO: Rep. Will Robinson speaks during a press conference regarding a possible leak near the old Piney Point phosphate plant site in Palmetto, Fla., April 2, 2021.

The water being discharged from Piney Point is a mix of sea water from the Port Manatee dredge project, process water and storm water, officials said.

The department said the discharge water meets “water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen.” Officials said the water is slightly acidic but not to a concerning or toxic level.

Hopes said crews worked overnight to “kind of plug a hole” using earth and rock to patch it up, but efforts were unsuccessful.

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