Leak at wastewater pond prompts evacuations


DeSantis issued a State of Emergency for Manatee County Saturday after law enforcement and public safety officials ramped up evacuations in the area surrounding Piney Point in Manatee County due to an "imminent" collapse and release of the wastewater pond.

According to the state department of environmental protection, a breach was discovered on Friday in one wall of a 77-acre reservoir with a depth of 25 feet that contains millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from the old phosphate mine.

Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said at a press conference on Saturday that the most pressing concern is that the water could flood the area, which he said was agricultural and low in population density.

"All residents impacted should heed local evacuation orders", he wrote. Homes that are a mile north and a half-mile south of the pond also received an alert via text asking them to immediately evacuate the area because a collapse was "imminent". "It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern".

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared the state of emergency on Saturday.

Then a portion of the pond's containment wall shifted, meaning a collapse could occur at any time.

"So if you are in an evacuation area and you have not heeded that, you need to think twice and follow the orders", said Hopes at a news conference with DeSantis.

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In the meantime, attempts are made to reduce the pressure on the reservoir by pumping water from the reservoir and discharging it elsewhere.

But he also warned that "we are not out of the critical area yet". "So public health and safety is the top priority, and obviously, we want to protect in a way that minimizes any of the environmental impacts".

DeSantis said the company operating the site, HRK Holdings, should be held accountable.

Phosphogypsum is a regulated, radioactive substance that is the byproduct of fertilizer manufacturing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For example, too much nitrogen in the water can lead to accelerated growth of algae and therefore the death of fish.

"The pond is basically salt water".

"We hope the contamination is not as bad as we fear but are preparing for significant damage to Tampa Bay and the communities that rely on this precious resource", Justin Bloom, founder of the Sarasota-based nonprofit organization Suncoast Waterkeeper, said in a statement.

Manasota-88, an environmentalist group, lambasted officials saying that the gyp stacks at Piney Point have been mismanaged for decades.