Leak at wastewater pond prompts evacuations in Manatee County

Leak at wastewater pond prompts evacuations in Manatee County
Leak at wastewater pond prompts evacuations in Manatee County(WWSB)
Published: Apr. 3, 2021 at 4:07 PM EDT
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BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday after a significant leak at a storage pond of wastewater threatened to cause flooding and collapse a system with radioactive material.

Officials in Florida were evacuating homes and a highway Saturday near the large reservoir in the area north of Bradenton, Florida, on Friday. News outlets say the Red Cross has been called in to help residents.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says a break was detected Friday in one of the walls of a 77-acre (33-hectare) pond, holding millions of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant.

The Tampa Bay Times says the reservoir in question held about 480 million gallons (about 1.8 billion liters) of wastewater before the company that operates it began discharging some of it to Port Manatee this week. At least 25 million gallons of the water had been discharged by early Thursday.

The pond where the leak was discovered is at the old Piney Point phosphate plant, where there are stacks of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertilizer that is radioactive. It contains small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium, and the stacks can also release large concentrations of radon gas.

Officials worry that the collapse of the system could spew polluted water as well as more hazardous material into the area and bay.

State and local crews worked overnight to reinforce the breaches, but residents who live within a half-mile radius of the pond received an alert via text saying to leave the area immediately because the collapse of Piney Point stack was “imminent.”

George Kruse, a Manatee County Commissioner, said he was at the stack Saturday with other officials and had to clear the area quickly.

“That’s when we determined that it was no longer safe to be anywhere near Piney Point, so we all kind of raced off the stacks as fast as we could,” Kruse said in a Facebook video, adding that officials would explain later what they have observed.

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