Homes Evacuated After Wastewater Reservoir Threatens Collapse in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently declared a state of emergency for Manatee County and more than 300 homes were under evacuation orders after a major wastewater leak was discovered at a former phosphate processing plant in Palmetto — about 40 miles south of Tampa.

According to the Bradenton Herald, workers discovered the leak at the plant’s largest reservoir, which at the time held about 480 million gallons of water. Officials say the containment wall had shifted, prompting concerns about an all-out collapse that could quickly inundate the nearby community with polluted floodwaters.

Some of the worst-case predictions that prompted the evacuation included the possibility of 20 feet of contaminated water flowing from the reservoir at once, breaking apart phosphogypsum stacks in the area that contain radioactive material. However, as of Monday, officials were optimistic that the risk of a major disaster could be lowered as crews were busy pumping more than 33 mgd out of the reservoir and discharging it into Tampa Bay in an effort to reduce the pressure on the containment walls. Meanwhile, 40-50 gpm was leaking uncontrollably and draining into Piney Point Creek, which eventually leads into Tampa Bay.

DeSantis clarified that the water itself is not radioactive, as was initially feared by some reports. “It is primarily salt water from the Port Manatee dredge project mixed with legacy process water and storm water runoff,” he said at a briefing. “The water was tested prior to discharge. The water meets water quality standards for marine waters with exception primarily of the phosphorous and the nitrogen.”

Early Monday morning, Tampa Bay Times also reported that an infrared drone had identified a possible second breach in the containment wall of the reservoir.

For more information and video of the developing situation, see the NBC footage below:

Update: Officials lifted the evacuation order April 6. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also reported that the concerns about a second breach were unfounded.


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