Emergency crews in Manatee County, Fla., are scrambling to drain a leaking wastewater reservoir in an effort to prevent a catastrophic event that officials said could unleash a “20-foot wall of water.” The leak at Piney Point — a long-abandoned phosphate plant in the Tampa Bay area — was first discovered last month.
Workers are removing millions of gallons of water from the reservoir each day to reduce pressure on its liner, and concerns over a potential breach prompted Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency on Saturday for Manatee County, where more than 300 homes and businesses have been ordered to evacuate. Officials said Monday that a drone may have identified a second breach overnight; engineers evacuated the site but have since returned to continue their assessment. The leak has prompted a multi-agency response at the state and federal level. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deployed an on-scene coordinator on Sunday, and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team arrived at the site on Monday.
Piney Point closed 20 years ago when its owners declared bankruptcy and is now owned by a company called HRK Holdings. It still stores industrial byproducts including polluted water and stacks of phosphogypsum — a waste product that emits radioactive gas, according to the EPA. Gov. Ron DeSantis stressed on Sunday that officials are most immediately concerned with the risk to local residents, saying, “public health and safety is the priority. Obviously we want to protect that in a way that minimizes any of the environmental impacts, but the goal is to ensure the integrity of the stack system as quickly as possible in order to minimize impacts to local residents and to prevent an uncontrolled discharge.”
Editorial credit: YES Market Media / Shutterstock.com