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Lake Martha off-limits: Diesel spill at Polk Co. hospital under investigation

Polk County

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) – A diesel spill at a Polk County hospital is under investigation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), a state official says.

Late Sunday, a float valve failed on an emergency supply tank at Winter Haven Hospital, which is part of the BayCare system, causing a diesel spill, according to a hospital spokesperson.

The hospital sits on the shore of Lake Martha.

Cleanup began by US Ecology, a remediation company, Monday morning around the tank and in Lake Martha.

“Remediation, thus far, has included: concrete surface clean-up in area surrounding the tank, vacuum of a storm drain that is located near the tank, and lake water clean-up in Lake Martha,” wrote Angel Neubrand, communications manager for BayCare’s Polk Region, in a statement.

US Ecology is also churning sand and vacuuming residue on the shoreline.

Residents watched as the lake water transformed over several days.

Christopher Bell, who owns lakefront property, first saw a thin, brown film on the lake.

“Didn’t have much of a sheen to it. It was dirty,” he said. “The following night it was sheen, like a rainbow. It was all the way across the lake, you could see, depending on the sun and the angle, you can see a real sheen.”

Chris Mahan grew up swimming in Lake Martha.

He tells 8 On Your Side he used to work to remediate petroleum-contaminated ground water.

He came to Lake Martha Thursday to see it for himself.

“For this to have happened is not the norm,” he said. “To actually see it on the surface of the water, I would say, that is a cause of concern. I’ve already seen dead fish on the shoreline.”

Department of Health officials in Polk County advise residents to wash thoroughly if they come in contact with the water.

“Water contaminated by dyed diesel presents several health risks to humans,” reads a press release from the health department. “Dyed diesel can cause skin & eye irritation, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory issues, and other conditions.”

As of now, boat ramps are closed along with signs around the lake reading “temporary health hazard” and “no swimming or fishing.”

Lakefront owners are advised not to use the water for irrigation for several days.

As part of their investigation, DEP environmental specialists are working to obtain and review information.

“DEP is also working to determine possible solutions to prevent incidents like this from occurring in the future. The department will hold the facility accountable by identifying necessary restoration and/or remediation actions, with the possibility of enforcement including fines and penalties for associated violations,” wrote Shannon Herbon, a public information officer with Florida Department of Environmental Protection, in a statement.

Water and soil samples have been sent to testing labs.

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