Hazardous water leaking from retention pond in Manatee County might impact Southwest Florida

Published: April 4, 2021 10:15 PM EDT
Updated: April 4, 2021 10:19 PM EDT

At the end of last week, hazardous water began leaking from a retention pond at a former phosphate processing plant in Manatee County. Since then, homes have been evacuated and a stretch of U.S.-41 was shut down in Manatee and Hillsborough Counties. The next question is, could this toxic water be headed to Southwest Florida?

Governor DeSantis and other state leaders are already planning for the worst. “What we’re looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to if need be a real catastrophic flood situation,” said DeSantis.

Experts are saying a breach is imminent from the retention pond at the former Piney Point Phosphate Processing Plant in Manatee County. This means millions of gallons of hazardous water will be released causing significant damage.

Calusa Waterkeeper Jonh Cassani explains the issue with the water. “The heavy metals can stay in the aquatic ecosystem for a long time and they can be damaging to the nervous system to a lot of different kinds of animals but it looks like they’re pumping it as we speak,” Cassani said.

Gov. DeSantis says crews are pumping 33 million gallons of nutrient-rich water a day into Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. To put that figure in perspective, that is the same as 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Cassani does expect most of the damage to be localized to Tampa Bay but it is possible that some of the damage from this breach could trickle down to Southwest Florida.

That could lead to more harmful red tide blooms.

“Now if it does feed the red tide event that’s going now and the currents in the gulf move it down here that could be a problem,” Cassani said.

The Calusa Waterkeeper believes the root of the problem stems from 30 years of mismanaged water. He also said that several organizations through the state have signed a petition to the EPA. Their goal is to review a federal rule regulating Phosphogypsum stacks so that this doesn’t happen again.