Leaking wastewater reservoir threatens Florida community and the ocean
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen here in January, has declared a state of emergency
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen here in January, has declared a state of emergency

Washington (AFP) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was due Sunday to visit the site of a leaking toxic wastewater reservoir, threatening nearby homes and an environmental disaster in the sensitive Tampa Bay.

DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday to free up additional funds to tackle the potential crisis at Piney Point in the Tampa Bay area, where a plastic liner at the reservoir holding hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic and slightly radioactive water has sprung a leak.

Authorities are working to plug the hole and pumping water to ease the pressure in the pond, but have warned that dirty water could spill into the community.

Manatee County officials ordered Saturday a "complete evacuation" of the area around the reservoir site due to "further collapse of the phosphogypsum stacks."

Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of fertilizer production and is considered weakly radioactive as it contains naturally occurring isotopes such as radon.

More than 300 homes are affected by the evacuation order.

According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, authorities have already released millions of gallons of wastewater into the Tampa Bay, raising concerns the phosphate-rich discharge could fuel a "red tide," or algal bloom, that poses a grave threat to marine life and could deter tourist activity.

DeSantis tweeted he was headed to Manatee County on Sunday to meet with local officials regarding Piney Point.

"All residents impacted should heed local evacuation orders," he wrote. 

Florida's agriculture commissioner, Nicole Fried, wrote to DeSantis saying the current emergency was only the latest in a difficult history at the facility.

"For more than 50 years, this Central Florida mining operation has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents," she wrote, adding there had been several earlier failures of the reservoir's lining.