Concerns after polluted water released into Tampa Bay after Piney Point leak

Manatee County

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Brian Rosegger and his wife started the Lost Coast Oyster Company to revive wild harvest oyster fishery on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“Our business relies on the availability of clean water for us to conduct operations,” Rosegger told 8 On Your Side.

Rosegger leases water from the state in lower Tampa Bay, which is why he says he’s very concerned about the leaking Piney Point phosphogypsum stack in Manatee County.

“They’ve left us Floridians holding the bag of their mountain of waste,” he said of the situation at the former fertilizer plant.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection initiated an emergency controlled release of up to 480 million gallons of industrial wastewater from the stack after the discovery of a leak last week.

It is the second leak in a decade at the site in North Palmetto, where problems with contaminated water discharges were first reported in the 1970s. 

From Rosegger’s oyster farm, it is a short boat ride to Port Manatee where the millions of gallons of polluted water are being released into the bay.

“If they empty the whole thing and it didn’t cause any problems I’d be happy, i’m not looking forward to this,” said Rusty Chinnis, a board member with Suncoast Waterkeeper.

Lost Coast Oyster Company farm in lower Tampa Bay. The owner says he is worried the contaminated water could slow or shut down his business. 

“Obviously any sea life around here will probably be pretty wiped out, the PH is high, there’s ammonia in it, some nitrates, slightly radioactive.”

Chinnis told 8 On Your Side the highly contaminated water could also trigger a big algae bloom and possibly a red tide.

“The releases of water from Piney Point have the potential to create a harmful algae bloom that could shut us down,” Rosegger said.

He explained the algae cells are so thick that they create a shade on the water that prevents the sunlight from penetrating the bottom to grow sea grasses.

But also pointed out pollution is bad for the overall economy in a tourism state where so many people visit because of the beautiful clean water.

“If we allow industry to continue to allow industry to pollute our waterways, it’s not just shellfish farmers like myself that are going to be paying for it, it’s all of us as Floridians,” Rosegger said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said it issued the emergency order to prevent the worst case scenario, a catastrophic collapse of the Piney Point stack.

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April 24 2021 08:00 am

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