Florida declares state of emergency over toxic wastewater leak

A state of emergency has been declared in Florida after a leak from a large pond of toxic wastewater in Tampa Bay.

More than 300 homes in the area have been evacuated, and a motorway near the Piney Point reservoir has been closed.

On Sunday Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the water was not radioactive and was “primarily saltwater” from a dredging project mixed with “legacy process water and storm water runoff”.

The priority was to prevent a “real catastrophic flood situation”, he said.

Officials said the 77-acre (31-hectare) reservoir holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant.

The pond where the leak was found is in a stack of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product from the manufacture of fertiliser.

Attempts to repair the leak late on Friday, by plugging the hole with rocks and other materials, were unsuccessful.

Mr DeSantis declared the state of emergency on Saturday.

On Sunday he said water was being pumped out of the pond at a rate of 33 million gallons a day. Other workers have been charting the path to control the flow of the water.

Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes told a press conference that there were concerns the water could flood the area, which is mostly agricultural.

“We are talking about the potential of about 600 million gallons (2.3 billion litres) within a matter of seconds and minutes, leaving that retention pool and going around the surrounding area,” he said.

By declaring a state of emergency, funds can be released to send more pumps and cranes to the area.

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