United States emergency crews seek to prevent 'catastrophic flood' at wastewater reservoir

Ruben Fields
April 5, 2021

Manatee County officials had ordered the evacuation of around 300 homes in the area on Saturday, due to "further collapse of phosphogypsum stacks".

According to PBS News Hour, Manatee County officials said the latest models demonstrate that a breach at the old phosphate plant reservoir is likely to gush out about 340 gallons of water in just a few minutes, endangering a 20-foot high-water wall.

Several residents in Manatee County were evacuated from their homes following the announcement that threatens massive loss of lives if the situation is not brought under control.

A jail one mile away from the pond is not being evacuated but officials are moving people and staff to the second floor and putting sandbags on the ground floor.

Attempts to fix the leak late on Friday, by plugging the hole with rocks and other materials, were unsuccessful.

The state-run Protecting Florida Together, website said the leak had been reported on March 26.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency over the county Saturday.

A portion of the reservoir's retaining wall shifted laterally, which means total structural collapse is possible, Manatee County public safety officials said.

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

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According to the country official, about 22,000 gallons of water are being pumped out of Piney Point per minute, as of Sunday, and the risk of a collapse at the site is expected to decrease by Tuesday.

As a precaution, workers are trying to plug breaches in the reservoir as well as pumping out thousands of gallons of water to minimise the threat.

"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. "We can take care of nutrients in the environment ..."

The Florida DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said another pond has higher levels of metals.

"The pond is basically salt water". Specifically, he said, looking at the water that has been eliminated and somewhat stability of the present breach, he thinks the team is much more comfortable now than they were previously.

"So, again this is not water we want to see leaving the site".

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".

"We hope the contamination is not as bad as we fear", said Justin Bloom of the group, Suncoast Waterkeeper.

There are at least 70 gypsum stacks in the United States, with around 27 in Florida, mainly in the state's west-central region.

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