“What we are now trying to prevent … are catastrophic floods.” In a press conference on Sunday, April 4, the governor of the US state of Florida, Ron DeSantis, warned about the situation in Tampa Bay: the site of a sewage tank could rupture, threatening a major flood and a possible environmental disaster.
The evacuation of more than 300 houses in this area has been ordered., south of the great city of Tampa. A state of emergency has been declared in order to allocate new funds to address this potential crisis in the Piney Point industrial estate, a former phosphate factory used for the production of fertilizers.
The plastic lining of this reservoir, which contains more than a million cubic meters of wastewater, coming from dredging or rain in particular, began to leak several days ago. “If we saw a complete breakup, in a matter of minutes, approximately 340 million gallons (more than a million cubic meters of water, editor’s note) could leak, “said Scott Hopes, an official for Manatee County, where Tampa Bay is located. According to him, models show that such a rupture would result in “wall of water” 6 meters high.
Authorities have tried unsuccessfully to plug the leak, and have now been pumping water from the reservoir since last week to reduce pressure there, at a rate of more than 100,000 cubic meters per day.
Threat of a “red tide”
This water “is not radioactive,” said the governor, who held the company that manages the site, HHK Holdings, accountable. He made sure that the water had been tested before being discharged and was mainly composed of “saline water”. “It meets the quality standards for seawater, with the exception of phosphorus and nitrogen,” and nutrients, he said.
But some have expressed the fear that these nutrients could help the development of a phenomenon known in this region of the Gulf of Mexico, a “red tide”, the algae flourish giving the water a red appearance and threatening to suffocate marine life.
Concerns also focus on phosphorous gypsum strains at the facility, a by-product of fertilizer manufacturing and is considered weakly radioactive. These large piles of phosphorous gypsum threaten to disappear in the event of a flood and thus pollute the surrounding ecosystem.
This environmental disaster is even worse because it was completely predictable.Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity
“This environmental disaster is even worse because it was completely predictable,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida manager of the Center for Biological Diversity environmental organization. “Federal officials must clean up these wastes that the fertilizer industry has thrown into Florida communities, and immediately stop the production of phosphorous gypsum, “he said in a statement, calling on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to intervene.
Florida agriculture official Nicole Fried wrote to the governor, saying the current crisis was only the latest to affect the site. “For more than 50 years, this central florida mining operation caused many disasters and environmental and public health incidents, “he wrote, adding that the tank liner had failed several times in the past.