Hundreds of people were forced to evacuate from an area north of Bradenton, Florida. The neighborhood remains cordoned off on Monday, because a second leak has been detected by drone. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, teams are working around the clock to prevent a flood of polluted and radioactive waste water from blasting through a residential community. “Notices were sent to any persons one mile to the north of the phosphogypsum stacks and a half-mile to the south.” What has everyone so edgy is the fact that the pond “is part of a system with stacks of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertilizer that is radioactive.”
Evacuate the area now
Late Friday night, experts who had been assessing small leaks in the containment pond found one large enough to prompt the order to immediately evacuate a zone around the Piney Point reservoir. That was soon expanded “a half-mile west and one mile southwest to Moccasin Wallow Road.” In response, Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency.
“Due to a possible breach of mixed saltwater from the south reservoir at the Piney Point facility, I have declared a State of Emergency for Manatee County to ensure resources are allocated for necessary response & recovery.” The Red cross is also on hand to help with displaced residents.
Due to a possible breach of mixed saltwater from the south reservoir at the Piney Point facility, I have declared a State of Emergency for Manatee County to ensure resources are allocated for necessary response & recovery.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 3, 2021
The pond is full to the breaking point with “about 480 million gallons of wastewater.” The Florida EPA was first to announce Friday that a break was detected “in one of the walls of a 77-acre pond.” They didn’t say it was radioactive, only that it held “millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant,” so evacuate now.
Around 2 a.m. Monday morning, “an infrared drone identified a potential second leak at Piney Point’s main reservoir.” Thermal imaging found this one “along the northern portion of the retention pond’s eastern wall,” Scott Hopes, acting county administrator, relates.
Right now, “FDEP engineers are working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess the site.” To help ease the burden, the EPA “has delivered 100,000 bottles of water to the Manatee County Convention & Visitors Bureau” for anyone who needs it.
The team working to control the damage by pumping water out of the pond also got an order to evacuate when the second breach was discovered overnight. Between the county and help from “multiple local, regional and state partners,” the water is being removed “mechanically” from the pond “in an attempt to prevent a large-scale breach.”
At 11 a.m. today @MCGPublicSafety officials ordered a complete evacuation of the Piney Point reservoir site. Evacuation notices were sent to any persons one mile to the north of the phosphogypsum stacks and a half-mile to the south. pic.twitter.com/8ZaWE1A3PE
— Manatee County Public Safety Department (@MCGPublicSafety) April 3, 2021
Polluting Tampa Bay
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was dispatched to lend federal assistance to the site, lawmaker Vern Buchanan reached out to the EPA for answers. “When I see water flowing into Tampa Bay, frankly, it makes me sick about it,” especially when it isn’t just highly polluted water, it’s radioactive too.
“I want to be hopeful, optimistic, but just the fact that we’re running water into the Tampa Bay is not a great thing and not a great place to be at, but the reality of it is it seems like the right thing to do right now.” The good news is that they won’t need to evacuate anyone else for the time being.
#Breaking Due to continued concerns regarding the Piney Point Phosphogypsum Stack & waste water overflow, FHP will close US-41 at 113th St E in Manatee & College Ave in Hillsborough. Motorists should detour to I-75 using College Ave & Moccasin Wallow Road. pic.twitter.com/6HZpjCu16B
— FHP Tampa (@FHPTampa) April 3, 2021
Buchanan promises to find a “long-term solution to the problem.” He also wants to “use the Piney Point crisis as a springboard for tackling water quality issues throughout the state.”
Those in the area who didn’t get the word to evacuate are glued to the TV for news coming in from the hourly drone overflights which offer “a real-time view of what is occurring out at the site.” An EPA official notes “temperature changes recorded by the drones at the berm could indicate additional leaks.”
Even though everyone for a couple square miles had to evacuate, the good news is that the water is perfectly safe to drink from the tap. “We’re hearing a lot of rumors and misinformation on these topics,” the Manatee County Board of Commissioners soothes.
“Manatee County utility customers can rest assured that their drinking water is completely safe to drink. The water distribution system is a closed system without any way for flood water to enter. There is also no threat to our primary source of drinking water, Lake Manatee.”