Red tide and algae: How water from Piney Point’s phosphate retention pond could impact Tampa Bay

8 On Your Side

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — For five days now, hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater have been pumped into Tampa Bay. But what’s really in the water at the Piney Point phosphate retention pond and can it harm you?

State and local officials say the drinking water in the area is being checked and it’s safe.

From above, you can still see the breach at the Piney Point phosphate retention pond. Contaminated water that was sitting in a stack of solid fertilizer byproduct called gypsum continued pouring out Tuesday.

“You’re saying this water is not ready to be returned to the environment?” 8 On Your Side Investigator Mahsa Saeidi asked an expert.

“Right, it’s got too much phosphorus, too much nitrogen,” said Matthew Pasek, a geochemistry professor at the University of South Florida.

The water contains phosphorus, nitrogen, sulfuric acid and small amounts of heavy metals, said Professor Pasek. Those chemicals are the byproducts that come from making fertilizer.

According to Pasek, saltwater has been added for years to decrease the toxicity of the pond. However, the leak happened before the water was safe to return to the environment.

“The worst-case scenario would probably be algal blooms across the surface of Tampa Bay and a bloom of red tide,” said Professor Pasek. “Fish will suffocate, the water will smell bad, it’ll turn green, fish that people use for fishing also become toxic and inedible.”

So why pump the water? Well, it’s the best way to prevent a catastrophic breach and flood.

While the gypsum that holds the water is radioactive, containing small amounts of naturally-occurring radium and uranium, Pasek believes this breach is unlikely to impact the drinking water in the area.

“This is water that’s in contact with radioactive material but it is not radioactive in the sense that we need to worry,” he explained.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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