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Closed phosphorous fertilizer storage pond nearing ‘catastrophic’ collapse

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A Florida pond that holds fertilizer wastewater from a facility that went bankrupt and closed two decades ago is leaking toxic materials and is on the verge of “catastrophic” collapse. Not only is there an ecological threat from the phosphorous fertilizers and radioactive materials inside the pond, officials are warning that a 20-foot-high wall of water could tear through the surrounding region if the berm breaks.

An emergency evacuation alert has been put into place in Manatee County, which has been facing this threat for a couple of days. Currently, crews have been working to siphon off as much water as possible to relieve the pressure off the sides of the pond to avoid a catastrophic hazard. The siphoned water, which is primarily salt water rather than more radioactive liquids, is being pumped into Port Manatee, at the mouth of Tampa Bay, according to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

This effort is lowering the pond’s water levels by about a foot in each 24-hour period.

Should there be a catastrophic incident, an official said over the weekend that 340 million gallons of wastewater could flow out of the pond in mere minutes, causing the 20-foot-high water surge that threatens about 300 homes nearby.

Weather.com reported that Vanessa Baugh, chairman of the Manatee County Commission, said drinking water in Manatee County and the town of Palmetto remained unaffected by the breach at the pond. She said the county utility system was a closed system and water from the pond could not enter it. She also said the county’s main source of drinking water, Lake Manatee, was not affected. She added that private wells near Piney Point also should remain safe.

The pond where the leak happened holds an estimated 480 million gallons of mixed sea water — primarily saltwater from a Port Manatee dredge project, mixed with old process water and stormwater runoff and rainfall, said DEP spokeswoman Weesam Khoury.

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