Rally for the Truth

Rally for the Truth
Dean Blanchard, Karen Hopkins & Stephen Baldwin

Friday, June 10, 2011


DEP investigating 45M gallon toxic water spill into Gulf of Mexico that could poison fish SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Sarasota Herald-Tribune] by Halle Stockton - June 10, 2011 © 2011 Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved. Water from old phosphate plant is high in metals and other perils The water gushing from a former phosphate plant into the Gulf of Mexico in North Manatee County contains high levels of two toxic metals and nutrients that could harm a precious Southwest Florida fishery. About 45 million gallons of contaminated water have already flowed from the former Piney Point phosphate plant through pipes that lead into nearby Bishop Harbor, a Gulf bay that is a sensitive habitat for fish and wildlife. The contamination could trigger algal blooms damaging to seagrass and the marine life habitats they host, and could eventually lead to a fish kill in Bishop Harbor, experts said. Some sea life, including blue crabs and shrimp, could also absorb cadmium, which was found in the water at a level more than nine times above the state safety standard, according to lab results released late Tuesday by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Cadmium is found in rocks mined to produce phosphate fertilizers and does not corrode quickly. "It will be a toxic introduction to the harbor for many years to come," said Glen Compton, chairman of the environmental group Manasota-88, which is monitoring the leak. Levels of radioactive radium were detected at levels just below the state limits, and the presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water flowing from the industrial site was also high. The decision to drain water from the holding pond at the former phosphate plant was made by the DEP on May 29, more than two weeks after a leak was detected. The plant began decades ago as a facility to process phosphate and now holds giant ponds that sit in earthen mounds, known as phosphogypsum stacks. The ponds can store water and solids that are blocked from leaching out by a protective liner. But that liner was torn last month as slurry from a dredging project at Port Manatee was being pumped into the reservoirs. The water escaped the liner and put pressure on the sidewalls of the stacks. DEP officials say the release of water relieved the pressure and prevented a "catastrophic" collapse in which the entire mound and its contents could have washed away and flowed onto the ground and into the Gulf. Earlier, the DEP conducted preliminary tests on the water and said it was consistent with the sea water in Manatee Harbor. The agency expedited tests to check for the presence of nearly 40 chemicals in the water, but still did not know what was present until 10 days after the drainage began. Test results this week showed the presence of cadmium, radium, phosphorus and nitrogen. A daily average of 3.8 million gallons of the saltwater has been drained from the plant into the bay and harbor. HRK Holdings, the plant's owner, has been working to find and repair any ruptures in the liner so the port dredging can resume. Company CEO Jordan Levy did not return calls for comment. Area environmentalists were alarmed by the cadmium and radium, but were more concerned with the potential consequences of excess nutrients. DEP results showed total nitrogen levels in the saltwater were 9 mg/L and total phosphorus levels were 16 mg/L. Holly Greening, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, said average nitrogen and phosphorus levels over the past 15 years have been 0.5 mg/L and 0.2 mg/L, respectively. Greening said Bishop Harbor, west of U.S. 41 north of Rubonia, will inevitably see algal blooms that will shade seagrass and prevent its growth, and deprive other sea life of oxygen as it decomposes. "Seagrass is really a cornerstone of health for Tampa Bay," she said. "We had seen a recovery from reducing nutrient dumps. Because of the human health risks, this was a necessary step to take, but we'll be possibly looking at the ramifications, especially in Bishop Harbor, for a while." Heavy rainfall in 2003 nearly caused the Piney Point reservoirs, holding 1.2 billion gallons of acidic fertilizer process water, to collapse. That water was pumped into Bishop Harbor to protect the stacks. The nitrogen levels in the water being released are similar to the water released then, said DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller. Robin Lewis, a Tampa ecologist and seagrass expert, said the DEP is ignoring biological impacts. "The DEP refused to recognize the problem back then when seagrass was damaged and fish habitats were lost," he said. "Here they go again, implying everything is fine, but that's absolutely incorrect." Miller said the DEP plans to continue water quality testing and will begin monitoring Bishop Harbor. "The focus at the present time is to stop the source of the leak so the discharge can be stopped as soon as possible," she said. Compton is more concerned about whether the cadmium came from the phosphogypsum stacks or the dredged waste from the port project, which will deepen the port and open it to more ships from the expanded Panama Canal. Miller said the source is unclear. The DEP will investigate the source of the cadmium if it stays present in water samples, she wrote in an email. Cadmium can accumulate in aquatic organisms and agricultural crops and is a human carcinogen, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. It is used in batteries, pigments, metal coatings and plastics. Lewis said he did not think there would be high enough levels of the metal to cause long-term harm. Port Manatee officials decided to store the dredge waste in the stacks because it was cheaper and anticipated to be more environmentally friendly than other options. Michael Ramsingh Seafood.com News 1-732-240-5330 Email comments to michaelramsingh@seafood.com

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