Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to convene an emergency meeting of the Florida Cabinet to discuss the evacuation of Manatee County residents and the environmental crisis at the Piney Point phosphate mine.
In a letter to the Governor, Fried addresses the current emergency at the Piney Point phosphate plant after the discovery of a breach Friday afternoon. The breach threatens the county with millions of gallons of polluted water flooding neighborhoods and into Tampa Bay.
“For more than fifty years, this Central Florida mining operation has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents, including evacuations from sulfuric acid leaks, deaths of multiple employees, the release of more than 1 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater, and ongoing, regular gypsum stack and reservoir leaks from poor construction and maintenance that released heavy metals and pollutants into the region’s water and soil,” Fried writes.
The Governor declared a state of emergency for Manatee County Saturday morning in response to the crisis. Residents within a half-mile of the reservoir have all been evacuated.
Fried details in her letter how previously-known poor maintenance by current and former phosphate mine owners have created a dangerous situation for local residents, communities and even state-managed lands and waters.
“There have been numerous, well-documented failures – which continue today – of the property’s reservoir liner, including leaks, poor welds, holes, cracks, and weaknesses that existed prior to purchase by the current owner, HRK Holdings, and exacerbated since,” she writes. “The immediate evacuation of residents, disruption of families during Easter weekend, and potential environmental catastrophe requires the attention and action of Florida’s statewide elected leadership.”
Since the initial discovery, the site has been leaking 22,000 gallons a minute, said acting County Administrator Scott Hopes. There are still key engineers on site, and the crews are managing two full siphoning pipes that empty out at the port into a drainage ditch.
The most recent public safety alert relayed the severity of a potential collapse, reading “Emergency alert: extreme. Evacuate area NOW. Collapse of Piney Point stack imminent!”
Phosphogypsum, the radioactive waste seeping from the site, is formed as a by-produce from fertilizer production, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The waste is stored in large piles, or stacks.
By leaking into Tampa Bay, which has already occurred and will increase with a full collapse, the excess nutrients could cause algal blooms, which lead to red tide, environmentalists warn.