Florida faces 'imminent' pollution catastrophe from phosphate mine pond

State launches website for Piney Point updates

State launches website for Piney Point updates

Amid the heightened threat, Manatee County Public Safety Department expanded an evacuation order to hundreds of homes in the surrounding area.

Gov. Ron DeSantis took an aerial view on Easter Sunday of the situation at an old phosphate facility that's at risk of catastrophic collapse and said the state would hold the owners responsible for any damage to the environment or nearby homes and businesses from any discharge of polluted water.

"For more than fifty years, this Central Florida mining operation has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents, including evacuations from sulfuric acid leaks, deaths of multiple employees, the release of more than 1 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater, and ongoing, regular gypsum stack and reservoir leaks from poor construction and maintenance that released heavy metals and pollutants into the region's water and soil", Fried writes.

He refuted mainstream media speculation that has called the potential flooding "radioactive water". The Florida governor said a possible flood is a bigger concern than the quality of water.

"Water quality issues that are flowing from this, for us, is less than the risk of everyone's health and safety, particularly folks who may live in the area", DeSantis noted.

"This is not acceptable and it's not something we will allow to persist", he said, adding that he has ordered the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation to find a permanent fix at the site.

Fried details in her letter how previously-known poor maintenance by current and former phosphate mine owners have created a unsafe situation for local residents, communities and even state-managed lands and waters.

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The initial evacuation zone included between 15 and 20 houses, and officials say all of them have been evacuated.

The pond where the leak was found is in a stack of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product from the manufacture of fertiliser. It also contains small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium, and the stacks can release large concentrations of radon gas as well.

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.

Environmentalists are reportedly concerned a breach could kill fish, exacerbate red tide and lead to algae blooms. Pumping the entire pond would take 10 to 12 days.

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

Manatee County, the state and HRK Holdings, who now owns the property, have worked for years in finding a solution.

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 a year ago.

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