The discharge of more than 200 million gallons of sewage from an old phosphate plant in Florida to Tampa Bay this week threatens an important bird area, fish, various species of waders and waders, and the state’s legendary manatees.
Late last week, officials feared the catastrophic collapse of a phosphogypsum stack retention basin containing 480 million gallons of water at the Pineat Point phosphate plant in Manatee County, north of the city of Bradenton. The pond contained a mixture of seawater, rainwater and sewage from the fertilizer industry. To prevent a collapse, workers began controlled releases into the bay at 22,000 gallons per minute. Publications slowed Thursday and stopped at 5 p.m., although publications were expected to restart, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
“The situation at Piney Point is tragic after so much progress in restoration work has been made in Tampa Bay over the past two decades,” said Julie Wraithmell, general manager of Audubon Florida. “We are concerned about the impact on the nesting and foraging of waders and waders in the bay – we have been guardians for 80 years. Due to legal protection and proper management, species like the red heron have returned to Tampa Bay after being wiped out by poachers for the feather trade in the early 20th century. However, their persistence is not guaranteed. Threats to water quality and sea level rise could undo these hard-won gains for both the bird and the people of Tampa Bay. “
An important bird area designated by Audubon, known as Cockroach Bay-Terra Ceia, is just west of the Piney Point pond. It covers 3,500 acres across several parks and sanctuaries.
Audubon’s description of the location states that islands in the IBA “support major colonial waterfowl rookeries, and Washburn Sanctuary contains one of the two most diverse rookeries in Florida. Mangrove forests support some mangrove cuckoos that are approaching their northern limits of distribution within this IBA. “
Species in the region include tri-colored and small blue herons, rose spoonbills, wood storks, brown pelicans, glossy and white ibises, and reddish and snow-capped herons.
Experts say pumping wastewater into the bay is “like dumping 50,000 bags of fertilizer into the bay at one time”. Increased nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the bay can cause algal blooms, which then kill fish in the bay.
Phosphogypsum plants also contain radioactive waste. This Center for Biodiversity article explains:
“Radium-226 found in phosphogypsum has a radioactive decay half-life of 1,600 years. In addition to high concentrations of radioactive substances, phosphogypsum and treated wastewater can also contain carcinogens and heavy toxic metals such as antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, sulfur, thallium and zinc. ”
Perhaps most worryingly, the Piney Point site is just a phosphogypsum plant in the Sunshine State. Two dozen others can be found in Florida.
“This environmental disaster is made worse by the fact that it was completely predictable and preventable,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With 24 more piles of phosphogypsum storing more than 1 billion tons of this hazardous radioactive waste in Florida, the EPA needs to intervene immediately. Federal officials must clean up this mess that the fertilizer industry has thrown on the Florida communities and immediately stop further phosphogip production. “
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