The Piney Point industrial site in Manatee County, Florida, has never had a good track record for being eco-friendly. The first chemical plant there, Borden Chemical, had only been open for four years when it was discovered the company was dumping phosphate waste into nearby Bishop Harbor, littering the shores with suffocated and poisoned fish.
In 1989, several owners later, a tank leaked 23,000 gallons of sulfate and forced evacuations of the area.
In 1991, two consecutive incidents resulted in massive acid leaks and the deaths of three workers.
In 2004, a hurricane breached the then-abandoned site’s phosphate reservoir, releasing 70 million gallons of contaminated water into the beleaguered harbor.
In 2011, another spill, more than twice as large, contaminated the ocean 40 miles north in Tampa Bay.
And now, the Piney Point phosphate reservoir is again the problem. It is a 67-acre holding pool beneath a stack of radioactive phosphogypsum, a byproduct of making fertilizer. The pool holds almost 500 million gallons of wastewater contaminated with nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia, radium, and uranium (the last two in insignificant amounts). On March 25, a leak was detected in the retaining wall and on the 26th, that leak began to spill.
Since then, the cracks have multiplied and increased in size, and local officials fear that the retaining walls could collapse at any moment. Over a hundred million gallons of wastewater have already spilled out, and more is being pumped out to reduce the danger of a catastrophic breach. Stopping the spill is a lost cause, despite the danger this wastewater poses to the local environment.
While all of the contaminants in the wastewater do occur in nature, the concentration is the problem. Environmentalists fear the leak will cause massive algae blooms in months or even years to come, which can drastically lower the oxygen content of water, killing fish and creating massive dead zones, even in the ocean.
But don’t worry; officials say that no drinking water has been affected.