Radioactive wastewater leak prompts evacuation in Florida

Elias Hubbard
April 4, 2021

"It was located in one wall of the 77-acre pond that holds about 600 million gallons of water, containing phosphorous, nitrogen, and small amounts of radium and uranium".

Aerial images aired on local television showed water pouring from leaks in the walls of the retention pond.

After the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced the discovery, efforts were made to block the leak using rocks and other materials, yet the attempts proved futile.

The pond where the leak was discovered is at the old Piney Point phosphate mine near Bradenton.

He said the state's department of environmental protection (DEP) had brought in 20 new pumps.

Gov. DeSantis also addressed the safety of the water being released.

"We won't be repairing the liner, we will be depleting the holding ponds of their water and then we will be moving forward to a permanent solution into the future once we mitigate the current risk", Hopes told the press conference.

Manatee County's acting administrator Scott Hopes said authorities were looking to permanently empty reservoirs at the site. "It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern, nor is it expected to be toxic".

A new expanded emergency evacuation order was sent out to an area around Piney Point, the former phosphate mine.

Officials widened the evacuation zone late on Saturday from a dozen or so properties to more than 300 houses.

The pond where the leak was found is in a stack of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product from the manufacture of fertiliser. The stacks can also release large concentrations of radon gas.

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

"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", said Fried.
The breach threatens the county with millions of gallons of polluted water flooding neighborhoods and into Tampa Bay.

Marine algae thrive on such elements, and environmental groups fear the release of millions of gallons of nutrient-rich water into the ocean could trigger a deadly "red tide", or algal bloom, that can suffocate fish and other aquatic life and deter tourist activity.

"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.

Residents who live around the Piney Point reservoir received an alert via text saying to leave the area immediately because the collapse was "imminent". Pumping the entire pond would take 10 to 12 days. As long ago as 2003, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported, reservoir walls were crumbling.

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 past year.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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