A reservoir in Florida contaminated with radioactive wastewater could reportedly collapse “ at any time ” and led to evacuations when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Saturday.
A significant leak in a large pond of sewage was discovered Friday at the old Piney Point phosphate mine in the Tampa Bay region north of Bradenton.
Waste material on site is stored in water-covered piles of phosphogypsum – a waste product from fertilizer that is radioactive WTSP reported.
The pond near the reservoir contains small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium, and the stacks can also release large concentrations of radon gas.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said the breach was discovered in one of the walls of a 77-acre pond that is 7 feet deep and contains millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from the old phosphate plant.
However, Florida officials said in one statement that the main concern of the collapse would be floods, with the water being drained being called ‘slightly acidic’.
Officials have ordered more than 300 homes to be evacuated after attempts to close the gap were unsuccessful. Authorities expanded the evacuation area to include more houses later on Saturday, but said they had no plans to open shelters.
A reservoir contaminated with radioactive wastewater in Florida could reportedly collapse “ at any time. ” A significant leak in a large pond of sewage was discovered Friday at the old Piney Point phosphate mine
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Saturday after officials ordered at least 300 homes to evacuate the area
“The water meets the water quality standards for seawater, with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen,” the state said in a statement.
“It is slightly acidic, but not at a level expected to be of concern, nor is it toxic.”
Manatee County administrator Scott Hopes said at a news conference Saturday that water could flood the area, which he says is agricultural and has a low population density.
“We’re talking about the potential of about 600 million gallons in a matter of seconds and minutes, getting out of that retention pool and going around the area,” Hopes said.
Hopen added that the pond is “ essentially salt water, ” but said that if the pond collapses, there is a risk that it could destabilize the walls of other parts of the plant.
The wastewater in the other ponds should be purified to reduce the ammonium content and other materials.
‘We saw ducks yesterday, there are snooks swimming in them. It preserves wildlife. That’s not the case for the other two pools, ”he said across the pond with the leak.
Jake Saur, Manatee County Public Safety Director, told me CBS News: ‘Part of the containment wall at the leak site has shifted laterally, indicating that structural collapse can occur at any time.’
Residents living around the Piney Point reservoir received a text alert on Saturday telling them to leave the area immediately as the collapse was “ imminent. ”
Officials brought in stones and materials to plug the hole in the pond late Friday to Saturday, but the attempt was unsuccessful.
Workers pump out thousands of gallons per minute to reduce volume in case the pond bursts. Pumping would take 10 to 12 days.
Others have worked to map the path to determine how the water flows from the pond to the Tampa Bay.
“Due to a potential breakthrough of mixed salt water from the southern reservoir at the Piney Point facility, I have declared a state of emergency for Manatee County to ensure resources are allocated for the necessary response and recovery,” DeSantis tweeted.
DeSantis’ state of emergency is allocating more pumps and faucets to the area.
The executive order declaring a state of emergency said the ruptured structure contains 480 million gallons of sea water mixed with process water and the dike materials from the old fertilizer plant.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in a letter urged the governor to convene an emergency session of the state cabinet to discuss a plan, adding that this property has seen similar leaks in the past.
“For more than fifty years, this mining operation in Central Florida has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents,” Fried said in the letter.
Those incidents include “evacuations due to sulfuric acid leaks, the death of multiple workers, the release of more than 1 billion liters of contaminated wastewater and continuous, regular leaks from plaster stacks and reservoirs.”
She blamed the leaks on “ poor construction and maintenance where heavy metals and pollutants were released into the water and soil of the region. ”
“The immediate evacuation of residents, disruption of families over the Easter weekend, and potential environmental disasters require the attention and action of Florida statewide elected leadership,” Fried said.
The site has long been considered “ one of the greatest environmental threats in Florida’s history, ” according to the Florida Phoenix
Piney Point’s previous owner, Mulberry Corp., had long since declared bankruptcy and left the factory, the Florida Phoenix reported.
HRK Holdings bought it in 2006 for r $ 4.3 million from Mulberry Corp. as part of bankruptcy proceedings.
Since then, HRK itself has been “ in and out of bankruptcy, ” the Florida Phoenix reported. HRK did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
HRK Holdings LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after it suffered a leak in a Manatee County plaster pile lining in 2011, Bradenton.com reported.
In 2016, more than 200 million gallons of contaminated wastewater from another fertilizer plant in central Florida leaked into one of the state’s major aquifers after a massive sinkhole formed in a pond from a phosphogypsum pile.
There are at least 70 plaster stacks in the United States and about 27 in Florida, mainly in the west-central Florida region.
The waste water stored in the plaster piles cannot be seen from the ground, as the piles surrounding the structure can reach a height of 150 meters.