MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have officially arrived on scene at the old Piney Point phosphogypsum stack as concerns continue to grow over the wastewater leak at the site.
The federal government is adding manpower, expertise and equipment to the area in an attempt to prevent a possible breach at the stack that could rapidly release millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater at the top of the stack.
Manatee County officials and U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan gave an update on the ongoing situation Monday afternoon. County officials say an infrared drone detected several new areas of concern overnight at the top of the stack. The drone detected several areas of lesser heat within the eastern wall of the stack that could indicate water has now intruded into those areas and could cause another breach.
When the new areas of concern were spotted by the drone, teams on top of the stack immediately evacuated out of concern for their own safety. Those teams have now returned and no new leaks have been spotted on the ground.
Congressman Buchanan toured the area by helicopter and says he didn’t like what he saw.
“I know they are making some progress, but to see the water spewing out, it looks pretty contaminated to me,” Buchanan told reporters on Monday.
Buchanan says the release of water into Tampa Bay is likely to impact the entire region.
“I am concerned about the threats to public safety, homes, businesses and of course marine life,” said Buchanan.
He says he wants to find a long-term fix to the ongoing problem.
“I don’t think it’s a question of dollars and cents, I think we are going to figure out what it takes and make sure we’ve got the resources to fix this permanently, not a patch,” said Buchanan.
Over the weekend, National Guard helicopters flew in more pumps to help quickly draw down the water in the retention pond at the top of the stack that is currently leaking contaminated water into the surrounding area. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes says the new pumps will double the capacity of the existing pumps and increase the draw down from 35 million gallons a day up to 100 million gallons a day.
It’s believed there are still 300 million gallons of contaminated waste water in the retention pond that is leaking. There was a total of 1.3 billion gallons in three separate ponds at the top of the stack when the leak was first detected. Officials are trying to prevent the release of all three ponds.