Hundreds of Florida homes evacuated due to phosphate plant breach

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"So what we're looking at now, is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation", DeSantis stated.

It could take between 10 to 12 days for the situation to stabilize, Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said Saturday.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Sunday headed for the site of a defunct phosphate plant south of Tampa, where a leak at a waste water reservoir forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes and threatened to flood the area and Tampa Bay with polluted water. More than 300 homes have been evacuated, he added.

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.

The ponds sit in stacks of phosphogypsum, a solid radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer. It contains small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium, and the stacks can also release large concentrations of radon gas. Instead, "we will be depleting the holding ponds of their water, and then we will be moving forward to a permanent solution into the future", he said. It has elevated levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and is acidic, but not expected to be toxic, the agency says.

"The immediate evacuation of residents, disruption of families during Easter weekend, and potential environmental catastrophe requires the attention and action of Florida's statewide elected leadership", Fried said.

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Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried urged the governor in a letter to convene an emergency session of the state cabinet to discuss a plan, adding that this property has seen similar leaks in the past.

"Phosphate companies have had over 50 years to figure out a way to dispose of the radioactive gypsum wastes", the activist group Mana-Sota 88 said. He said the long-term objective would be to entirely pump out the three reservoirs on the site and fill them in.

Early Sunday, officials saw an increase of water leaking out, but Hopes says it seems to have plateaued.

Manatee County, the state and HRK Holdings, who now owns the property, have worked for years in finding a solution.

At a meeting of the Manatee commission on Thursday, called after the seriousness of the new leak became apparent, engineers pointed to the deterioration of the pond's decades-old plastic liner. "It's old. There were some installation issues".

The newspaper inspected records of the site and found that staff documented small holes or weaknesses in plastic seams above the water line in July, October and December previous year.

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