The Environmental Damage from Piney Point

Liv Baker, Reporter

   The abandoned Piney Point phosphate site has posed an environmental threat since its opening and has continued to prove as dangerous because of its multiple spills since 1966. As of late March, one of the fertilizer reservoirs from the site has overflowed with rainwater, causing one of the heavy-duty plastic liners to rip. This wastewater is being pumped into Tampa Bay at 38 million gallons a day, which will likely cause significant environmental damage.

   After an April executive order to leak the wastewater into Tampa Bay in order to completely drain the pond, some water is still being diverted into other bodies of water to reduce the impact on the water quality. It has been averaged that 180 million gallons of wastewater have been dumped into Port Manatee in Tampa Bay but luckily due to recent efforts, these rates are slowing. 

    Evidently, this spillage will most directly impact aquatic life and water quality. Red tide growth is a growing concern for environmentalists as Tampa’s coastlines are no stranger to the red algae. The phosphate and nitrogen in the wastewater will cause algae to bloom along the Southwest coastline, preventing seagrass and other plants that aquatic life feeds on to halt growth since they need optimal sunlight. 

   This incident could potentially harm humans as well, just less immediately. Exposure to these harmful elements can over time cause vomiting, nausea and severe stomach cramps. Luckily, the state is quick to act when it comes to cleanup. In addition to 100 people being evacuated from their Manatee County homes, the Tampa Bay Times reports road closures and annoyance amongst citizens who think that the pond should be drained annually.

    Local colleges are also doing their part to ensure the least amount of environmental damage;  USF sent marine scientists to research the probable impacts and solutions to this accident. Diving teams have been sent to look at repairing the leak and the Department of Environmental Protection reports that water quality samples are taken 3 times daily. 

     Environmental activists argue that the county let the pond get too full and suggest preventative actions for the future of this wastewater reservoir. As the pond remains a threat until it is completely drained, environmental groups propose solutions such as using storage tanks offsite or even injecting the waste underground as wastewater is usually treated.

  The  Florida legislature is being pushed to use the $19 trillion COVID stimulus check to help plug the leak, as it’s estimated that the total cleanup will cost Florida $200 million. Some may argue that funding should be increased for research on how to store dangerous wastewater in a safe and acceptable manner in order to minimize the impacts on the health of the environment, citizens and aquatic life.