Manatee County on Tuesday lifted its evacuation order for more than 300 homes affected by the Piney Point crisis and reopened U.S. 41 near the phosphogypsum stack. But environmentalists, residents and business owners continue to voice concern about the long-term impact of the leak on the environment.
Responding to the crisis, two environmental nonprofits, the Suncoast Waterkeeper and the Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, on Wednesday issued a joint statement calling attention to the impact of the water pumped into Tampa Bay after a leak led to a breach of the Piney Point wastewater containment pond.
"The current discharge of water is far exceeding water quality standards for the Tampa Bay estuary and delivering excess nitrogen and phosphorus to bay waters," the organizations wrote in the statement. "Both nutrients are known to fuel harmful algae blooms such as red tides. At the current rate of wastewater discharge, nearly 500 tons of nitrogen are on track to be released in the course of about a week. This is equivalent to approximately 100,000 bags of fertilizer."
The groups say that the wastewater in the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack contains approximately 10 times the amount of nitrogen as raw sewage and that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and HRK Holdings, Piney Point's owner, knew of the failures before the leak—not just at Piney Point, but at other phosphogypsum stacks, as well.
In the statement, the organizations call for the state to establish a commission to examine phosphogypsum stack operations and how best to close them, to totally fund the complete closure of all the Piney Point stacks, to develop a plan to prevent failures at other stacks around the state and more.
"As Waterkeepers, we work hard to ensure our community rights are protected for clean waters, for fishable waters, for boatable waters and also drinkable waters," the organizations wrote. "We have been greatly disappointed that the people of Florida’s rights have been jeopardized by the failure of our state."