Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the area of Manatee County. Residents were ordered to evacuate their homes over Easter weekend as officials feared that a wastewater pond could collapse “at any time.” A highway near the large reservoir in the Tampa Bay area north of Bradenton was closed. The pond, located at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant, had a “significant leak.” “A portion of the containment wall at the leak site shifted laterally,” said Manatee Director of Public Safety Jake Saur, “signifying that structural collapse could occur at any time.” Manatee County Public Safety Department said that 316 households are within the full evacuation area. The greatest threat for the time being is flooding. If the reservoir were to fully collapse, one model shows that the area could see a “20-foot wall of water” within minutes.
Phosphogypsum is the “radioactive waste” left over from processing phosphate ore into a state that can be used for fertilizer, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. It can also contain carcinogens and heavy toxic metals. The water is currently being pumped out in order to avoid a full collapse but there are still roughly 3,450 million gallons of wastewater. “For more than fifty years, this Central Florida mining operation has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents,” Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried wrote in a letter to DeSantis on Saturday.