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Everything Known About the Toxic Pond Water Leak in Piney Point, Florida

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee County on Saturday in response to the toxic pond leak at the Piney Point reservoir.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the incident was first reported on March 26, when the DEP discovered a leak in a large pond of wastewater at Piney Point, a former phosphate plant.

The DEP said the break was detected in one wall of the 77-acre pond, which holds millions of gallons of wastewater from the Piney Point facility. “The facility was releasing wastewater into Piney Point Creek which leads into Tampa Bay,” the Florida DEP wrote in a press release.

On April 2, the DEP issued an update on the situation, saying it ordered HRK Holdings, the company that owns the water treatment facility, “to take immediate action and implement necessary steps to ensure integrity of the system. This authorization includes the release of controlled discharges.”

The statement continued, “Around 4 p.m. on April 2, 2021, a breakout of seepage in the east wall of the NGS south containment area was observed. This water is the same mixed seawater in the reservoir. These discharges are currently contained in the onsite lined stormwater system.”

In response to the reported incident, the Public Safety Department in Manatee County, where the reservoir is located, sent out an emergency evacuation notice for any residents within a half-mile radius of the Piney Point reservoir. Later that day, the department issued another emergency evacuation notice extending to “one mile north of the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack.”

On April 3, the DEP wrote in an update that “officials were notified that there was a possible imminent breach of the south reservoir at the facility.”

BREAKING: @MCGPublicSafety officials just expanded a mandatory evacuation area around the breached Piney Point reservoir. The original evacuation zone has expanded a half-mile west and one mile southwest to Moccasin Wallow Road. pic.twitter.com/8rjsQrptdr

— Manatee County Public Safety Department (@MCGPublicSafety) April 3, 2021

Shortly after that update, the Manatee Public Safety Department “ordered a complete evacuation of the Piney Point reservoir site.” The DEP said approximately 316 residents in Manatee County were ordered to evacuate because of the leak.

Green algae in the St. Lucie River in Stuart, Florida, on July 13, 2018.
Joe Raedle/Getty

During a press conference Saturday, Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said that possible flooding of the area was the most pressing issue.

“We are talking about the potential of about 600 million gallons within a matter of seconds and minutes leaving that retention pool and going around the surrounding area,” he said.

As the situation continued to escalate over the weekend, DeSantis traveled to Manatee County to speak with local officials in an effort to mitigate “the potential risk of uncontrolled discharges from Piney Point” and declared a state of emergency for the county. DeSantis was joined by Florida DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein and Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.

DeSantis said in a Sunday press release, “Our first priority is public health and safety. Teams on the ground are laser-focused on addressing this issue, and I have directed Secretary Valenstein to work with Manatee County and utilize all available resources to form a permanent solution to this longstanding issue.”

The governor went on, “I have also deployed the National Guard and they are in the process of dropping off additional pumps via aircraft on top of the berms, to help decrease the water levels in the Piney Point reservoir at an even faster pace. The State is committed to holding HRK and all involved parties accountable.”

The Liberty Buzz reached out to DeSantis’ office for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Before DeSantis’ comments on Sunday, Valenstein said on Saturday that “while this water meets most water quality standards for marine waters, there are elevated levels of nutrients and the water is acidic. However, the water is not radioactive.”

The situation continues to pose a potential risk for Manatee County and the state. Officials from the Manatee County Public Safety Department are expected to hold a press conference on Monday at around 12:30 p.m. local time. When reached for comment, the department directed The Liberty Buzz to that press conference.

The department has released an online tool so residents can find out if they are in the Piney Point evacuation zone.

REMINDER: @ManateeGov has launched an online tool for residents to see if they’re in the #PineyPoint evacuation zone. https://t.co/kWIZ8Kra9K

— Manatee County Public Safety Department (@MCGPublicSafety) April 5, 2021

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