Florida declares state of emergency over toxic wastewater leak

Gov. Ron De Santis inspects a failing phosphogypsum storage site near Tampa Bay

© Provided by New York Daily News This aerial photo taken from an airplane shows a reservoir near the old Piney Point phosphate mine, Saturday, April 3, in Bradenton, Fla.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) issued a state of emergency in three counties due to possible flooding in the Tampa Bay Area.

"Looking at the water that has been removed and the somewhat stability of the current breach, I think the team is much more comfortable today than we were yesterday", he said.

Officials said the 77-acre (31-hectare) reservoir holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorous and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant.

Attempts to fix the leak late on Friday, by plugging the hole with rocks and other materials, were unsuccessful.

However, as a precaution, hundreds of bottles of water have been shipped to the area. Now about 22,000 gallons of water are being discharged per minute, and Hopes said he expects the risk of collapse to decrease by Tuesday. The water running out on its own is going to Piney Point creek and into Cockroach Bay, an aquatic preserve in the Tampa Bay north of the facility.

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Thousands of gallons per minute is currently being pumped out of the reservoir now to bring the volume of water down, while other workers have been charting the path to control the flow of the water. Pumping the entire pond would take 10 to 12 days.

The Governor declared a state of emergency for Manatee County Saturday morning in response to the crisis. It contains small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium, and the stacks can also release large concentrations of radon gas. State authorities say the water in the breached pond is not radioactive. "So, again this is not water we want to see leaving the site", he said.

"This could have been resolved over two decades ago", Hopes said.

The water being discharged from Piney Point is a mix of sea water from the Port Manatee dredge project, process water and storm water, officials said.

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. "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".

Elevated ponds called gypsum stacks are full of contaminated water produced as a chemical byproduct of mining.

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