State of Emergency issued as Florida phosphate plant overflows with millions of gallons of wastewater

Governor Ron DeSantis spoke in Manatee County on Sunday morning to get a firsthand look at an environmental crisis happening at Piney Point.

He has already declared a State of Emergency in Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas Counties as a result of the crisis.

Currently, an old phosphate plant is overflowing with hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater near Piney Point. Emergency officials say efforts to shore up that leak have failed. 

Public safety officials have ordered a complete evacuation of the Piney Point Reservoir site and surrounding areas. Evacuations continue to expand as well.

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More than 300 homes and several businesses have been warned to leave.

During the update from Governor DeSantis on Sunday, Governor Ron DeSantis said the water being released in a controlled fashion at Port Manatee is not radioactive. He explained that it is primarily saltwater mixed with legacy process water and stormwater runoff. He added the water was tested before the controlled release and continues to be tested. In addition, the primary concern are the nutrients in the water, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen.

The Governor said that while they want to minimize environmental impact, the main goal is to minimize the impact to residents and prevent an uncontrolled discharge of the water. 

"The quality of the water flowing from this is less than the risk of everyone’s health and safety who live in the area," he said. Governor DeSantis then vowed to hold HRK Holdings, which manages the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack, accountable for the breach and said, "This is not acceptable."

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Acting Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes spoke during the news conference on Sunday as well, adding that the next steps include, "We won’t be repairing the liner (of the reservoir). We will be depleting the holding ponds of their water and then we will be moving toward a permanent solution into the future once we mitigate the current risk, which will probably include filling these ponds after they’ve been void of their contents and capping them, leaving a permanent solution that this will not happen in the future."

Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando to watch him speak.