More than 300 homes were ordered to evacuate their homes in Manatee Country, Florida over the weekend due to a leak at an abandoned wastewater pond as officials feared that the structure could collapse "at any time" and flood nearby areas, according to various local news outlets.
On Friday, a significant leak was discovered at Piney Point Reservoir near Tampa Bay, a former phosphate plant. The following day, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the area, and on Sunday, it was announced that the crews are working rigorously to prevent the collapse of the wastewater pond to avoid a possibly “catastrophic flood.”
.@MCGPublicSafety just sent out an emergency evacuation notice to any persons in the half-mile radius of Piney Point. The evacuation notice was issued due to the imminent uncontrolled release of wastewater at Buckeye Road and Bud Rohden Road. pic.twitter.com/qqFuMVNFlv— Manatee County Public Safety Department (@MCGPublicSafety) April 2, 2021
The authorities announced on Sunday that the reservoir is holding more than 300 gallons of wastewater and that it could result in a 20-foot (6-meter) wall of water if it were to fully collapse.
Owned by HRK Holdings, LLC, the pond, known as a phosphogypsum stack, collects wastewater collected in the production of phosphorous, which is an important element for fertilizing plants. Such waste can include high amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen as well as traces of uranium and radium, per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
With the attempts at stopping the leak failing so far, the authorities are working to drain water from the reservoir and empty it into the bay at Port Manatee to lessen the risks of a total collapse.
As of now, 33 million gallons of wastewater are being pumped out per day, CBS News reports. It's been reportedly leaking since March 29, and as of April 4, there were still 3,450 million gallons of wastewater left.
DeSantis explained in a press conference Sunday that the water isn't radioactive and that it is saltwater "mixed with legacy process water and stormwater runoff."
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection explains the water "meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and total ammonia nitrogen. It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern."
While radioactivity may not be a concern, environmentalists fear that too much nitrogen in the wastewater could cause algae to grow faster, resulting in mass fish deaths. Moreover, some algal blooms could harm those who come into contact with polluted waters or eat contaminated fish.
According to the officials, Lake Manatee, which is the area's primary source of drinking water, is not threatened by the accident as well as the well water to remain unaffected.
The officials state that, with the current flow rate, depleting the water and pressure to prevent a full collapse could take 10 to 12 days.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that 340 gallons of wastewater were left as of April 3. This has been updated to reflect the correct estimation of roughly 3,450 million gallons of wastewater left, as of April 4. IE regrets these errors.