TAMPA (WFLA) – USF scientists say the impact of nutrient-rich wastewater from the retired Piney Point fertilizer processing plant has been minimal so far.
A team from USF began water sampling and testing soon after millions of gallons of untreated water from Piney Point were released near Port Manatee.
“The area immediately adjacent to Port Manatee was subject to a spike in nutrient concentration, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus,” said College of Marine Science Dean Tom Frazer. “I think what we are seeing is that there continues to be a dilution and decline in some of those important chemical constituents.”
Environmentalists have been concerned from the start that the release of the contaminated water from Piney Point would have long-term impacts in the area.
“The event appeared to be short lived with no serious, acute impacts,” said Frazer.
A number of researchers from USF have been involved in the study. USF Oceanographer Steve Murawski has been studying the impact on fish and other marine species and says no health warnings have been issued on fish caught in the area.
“The fish were relatively abundant, off of Port Manatee. They didn’t show any obvious external signs like skin lesions and other things,” said Murawski.
One factor in favor of the aquatic life in the area was the timing of the water release.
Murawski says the release of the contaminated water did not occur during an important spawning season for sports fish.
“If you look at what we call the big three, so there are speckled trout, red fish and snook, their spawning seasons did not occur in overlapping, so in terms of dodging a bullet that was a good one,” said Murawski.
The USF team says it will take some time for all water test results to come back.
“We shouldn’t be walking away from this yet, we need to keep some vigilance in monitoring,” said Murawski.