77-Acre Pond Collapse in Florida May Cause Environmental Crisis; Here's Why!

Acting Manatee County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes speaks during a news conference Sunday

Acting Manatee County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes speaks during a news conference Sunday

More than 300 homes near the site of an abandoned phosphate mine and fertilizer-production facility in Manatee County were under mandatory evacuation orders, and Governor Ron DeSantis on Saturday declared a state of emergency to free up funds to tackle the crisis.

The Florida governor said the state has been pumping approximately 33 million gallons per day into Tampa Bay since Thursday to decrease stress on the leaking containment walls to avoid a breach and flood.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a Sunday press conference that crews are working to prevent "a real catastrophic flood situation".

Florida officials are urging residents in the surrounding areas of a wastewater storage pond to heed evacuation orders ahead of a potential overflow of polluted water.

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.

According to Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes, with new resources of the state, crews will be nearly doubling the amount of water being released from the pond and taken to Port Manatee.

The water being discharged is mostly seawater from the Port Manatee dredge project, process water and storm water, officials said. "It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern". "Teams on the ground are laser-focused on addressing this issue, and I have directed Secretary Valenstein to work with Manatee County and utilize all available resources to form a permanent solution to this longstanding issue", said Desantis.

Early Sunday, officials saw an increase in the water leaking out, but Hopes says it seems to have plateaued. He added though, that "we are not out of the critical area yet".

"We're not talking about anything with radiation or high levels of heavy metals", he said.

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Hopes explained he could not rule out that an entire breach could disrupt the walls of other ponds located at the Piney Point site.

"The radiologicals are still below surface water discharge standards".

Officials said the federal Environmental Protection Agency is sending a representative to be at the command center in Manatee County.

DeSantis vowed to hold HRK Holdings, the owners of the property, accountable for the failure.

Calls to the owner of the site, HRK Holdings, for comments went unanswered Saturday and Sunday.

The leaking pond sits in a stack of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertiliser, and contains "small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium".

Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of fertilizer from phosphate rock, and is considered to be weakly radioactive.

"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.

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