Skip to content Skip to footer

Florida Workers Race to Prevent Massive Spill of Radioactive Waste

This looming environmental catastrophe has prompted mandatory evacuation orders and a declaration of emergency.

Florida's Piney Point reservoir seen from an aerial view on April 4, 2021.

Florida workers over the weekend rushed to prevent the collapse of a reservoir wall containing hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater from a defunct phosphate mine, a looming environmental catastrophe that prompted mandatory evacuation orders and a declaration of emergency by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A leak in the Piney Point reservoir was first reported late last month, sparking fears of a complete breach and possible upending of stacks of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product of fertilizer manufacturing. During a briefing on Saturday, a public safety official for Florida’s Manatee County warned that “structural collapse” of the storage reservoir “could occur at any time.”

To prevent a full-fledged breach and contain spillage, local work crews on Sunday continued actively pumping tens of thousands of gallons of toxic wastewater per minute into Tampa Bay. As The Guardian reported Sunday, Manatee County officials “warned that up to 340 million gallons could engulf the area in ‘a 20-foot wall of water’ if they could not repair” the leak.

Justin Bloom, founder of the Sarasota-based nonprofit group Suncoast Waterkeeper, said in a statement Sunday that “we hope the contamination is not as bad as we fear, but are preparing for significant damage to Tampa Bay and the communities that rely on this precious resource.”

“It looks like this is turning out to be the ‘horror’ chapter of a long, terrible story of phosphate mining in Florida and beyond,” Bloom added.

Aerial footage posted to YouTube by a local news outlet shows the leak at the Piney Point reservoir as of Sunday morning:

The Environmental Protection Agency said late Sunday that it is “actively monitoring the ongoing situation at Piney Point” and has “deployed an on-scene coordinator” to work with local officials.

Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said Sunday that the crisis was “entirely foreseeable and preventable” and cries out for immediate intervention by the federal government.

“With 24 more phosphogypsum stacks storing more than one billion tons of this dangerous, radioactive waste in Florida, the EPA needs to step in right now,” Lopez said. “Federal officials need to clean up this mess the fertilizer industry has dumped on Florida communities and immediately halt further phosphogypsum production.”

It takes longer to read this sentence than it does to support our work.

We don’t have much time left to raise the $15,000 needed to meet Truthout‘s basic publishing costs this month. Will you take a few seconds to donate and give us a much-needed boost?

We know you are deeply committed to the issues that matter, and you count on us to bring you trustworthy reporting and comprehensive analysis on the real issues facing our country and the world. And as a nonprofit newsroom supported by reader donations, we’re counting on you too. If you believe in the importance of an independent, free media, please make a tax-deductible donation today!