Florida scrambles to contain wastewater, avert drinking water disaster

Florida scrambles to contain wastewater, avert drinking water disaster

Manatee swimming in Florida

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

A leak at a Florida wastewater treatment plant is causing alarm as officials warn a breach could unleash a 20-foot wall of polluted industrial wastewater surging through the surrounding area.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties over the weekend. Residents who live near the 77-acre wastewater reservoir north of Bradenton were warned a collapse of the containment barriers was ‘imminent’ and even though they were told to “Evacuate [the] area NOW” in a text message, authorities were not planning to open any shelters.

Site operators have warned for months the facility’s infrastructure was reaching its maximum capacity. The acidic wastewater, and the mildly radioactive mounds of phosphogypsum it sits upon, are byproducts of fertilizer manufacturing. If released, the wastewater could easily contaminate the region’s drinking water.

“The aquifer is like Swiss cheese, so it’s all interconnected. Contaminants can move extremely fast through the aquifer system,” Robert Brinkmann, a Hofstra University professor who wrote a book on Florida geology, told E&E.

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