In Florida an environmental disaster threatens Tampa Bay

The potential overflow of more than 1 million m3 of wastewater from a former phosphate mine south of Tampa forced the governor of Florida to declare a state of emergency. Some 300 homes were evacuated. Faced with the threat of an environmental disaster, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in the Tampa area.

According to The Miami Herald, authorities feared flooding due to industrial retention ponds containing more than 1.5 million m3 of wastewater at the Piney Point site, south of Tampa Bay. An evacuation order has even been issued for 316 homes in Manatee County, West Florida.

According to The New York Times, a leak was reported in a 30-hectare pond near a former phosphate factory, but the situation has deteriorated in recent days. DeSantis said on Saturday that the sewage spill poses an immediate and substantial danger to human health, safety, welfare and the environment.

A sudden and uncontrolled rupture of the water reservoir could flood homes in the region and overturn piles of phosphogypsum (a waste from phosphate mining), which hold the basins, explains the New York daily.

A waste management risk

According to federal authorities, phosphogypsum also contains appreciable amounts of radioactive waste materials, such as uranium and radium. The current leak has a flow rate of 7,000 to 11,000 m3 per day. There were 1.8 million m3 of water in the pond, and recently there were 1.5 million m3 left.

The water was pumped out and released into Tampa Bay to relieve pressure on the pond’s levees, The New York Times reports. This discharged water is seawater mixed with wastewater and runoff. The water meets marine water quality standards except for pH, phosphorus, total nitrogen, and ammonia nitrogen, Florida Environmental Protection Services said. It’s slightly acidic, but not at a level that should be of concern, nor toxic.

For The Miami Herald, an environmental disaster had been looming at Piney Point for decades. It all started in 1966 when Borden Chemical, a subsidiary of the Elsie the Cow agribusiness group, built a plant to process phosphate, a key ingredient in fertilizers. Since then, the site has housed an increasing amount of contaminated material which is now at risk of spilling into Tampa Bay, the local daily adds. The phosphate processing plant ceased operations in 2001, but according to The Miami Herald, the large retention ponds on the site collected millions of cubic meters of rainwater, which exacerbated the problem.

Better junk disposal

Dumpster rentals would not be able to solve this crisis given the amount of waste. Nevertheless they are potentially useful in alleviating excess waste creation in Florida, according to local junk disposal experts (click here for more detail).

There are numerous companies providing junk disposal services in Florida and residents should start using them more to lower the pollution level in the state. It is a matter of public awareness, and the government should do a better job at spreading the news! This will also help preserve the value of the local real estate market.