MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (FNN) – Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 21-82 declaring a state of emergency in Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties due to their proximity to the Eastport Terminal Facility – Piney Point Phosphate Processing Plant reservoir.
The reservoir holds 480 million gallons of a mix of seawater, remnant process water from the former fertilizer manufacturing, and stormwater runoff. The 77-acre reservoir water contains phosphorus and nitrogen from the old phosphate mine and is contained in a phosphogypsum stack – a radioactive waste-product of fertilizer manufacturing.
With attempts to stop the leak failing, officials are pumping 33 million gallons of this water into Port Manatee and the Gulf of Mexico, ordering the evacuation of 316 homes and the closure of US Highway 41 around the site.
The evacuation zone extends for one mile north to half a mile south and half a mile west to one mile southwest of the site. Residents in the area are urged to heed the evacuation orders.
The Manatee County jail, which is within this evacuation zone, moved inmates to the second floor and placed sandbags around the building, according to the Bradenton Herald.
While most models show one to five feet of flooding, the Bradenton Harald said that the worst-case scenario could be a 20-foot wall of contaminated water coming from the site.
Manatee Director of Public Safety Jacob Saur said, “A portion of the containment wall at the leak site shifted laterally, signifying that a structural collapse could occur at any time.”
Governor DeSantis said in a news conference, “Public health and safety is the top priority.”
According to CBS News, DeSantis said at the press conference that the water is “not radioactive” and that the primary concern is the nutrient make up of the water, which contains metals. One official did say, however, “it is not water we want leaving the site.”
The state said the water being pumped out meets water quality standards for marine waters except for the pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and total ammonia nitrogen. “It is slightly acidic, but not to a level that is expected to be a concern, nor is it expected to be toxic.”
However, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried sent a letter to the governor on Saturday urging an emergency session of the Cabinet to discuss the situation. She wrote that the water is “contaminated and radioactive” and that this is not the first time there has been an issue at the site.
Acting Manatee County administrator Scott Hopes backed up Fried’s claim that there have been problems at the facility for decades. He indicated that the latest leak is a result of officials not acting on past failures.
Hopes also said that “the controlled release is working” and believes “by Tuesday we’re going to be in a much better position and the risk level will have gone down significantly.”
Authorities noted that Manatee County water is safe to drink and there is no threat to Lake Manatee, the primary source of the county’s drinking water. They also said that wells have not been affected by the leak.
Lynn DeJarnette is a Florida National News reporter. | firstname.lastname@example.org