A massive leak of contaminated wastewater from a holding pons in the state of Florida has led to a state of emergency declared as hundreds of residents in Manatee County were ordered to evacuate homes over the Easter weekend.
Officials said the pond containing the wastewater could collapse at any time. The pond, which contains waste from the now-closed Piney Point phosphate processing plant, had begun to leak into the nearby area over the weekend.
Manatee County Public Safety Department officials said people living near the plant were ordered to evacuate due to an "imminent uncontrolled release of wastewater." Officials said a portion of the pond's wall had "shifted laterally" and the entire structure could collapse.
As of Tuesday, the "significant leak" has not yet been fixed. Thermal imaging from drones showed that some of the pond water was seeping through the ground.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FLDEP) said reports of a second leak were "unsubstantiated" and engineers are working to find a way to stop the existing leakage.
Officials said the pond was leaking contaminated water at a rate of more than 35 million gallons per day.
The FLDEP said the water was not radioactive as some reports had claimed. The agency said the water does contain dangerous chemicals and it should not be allowed to contaminate the local water supply.
The Center for Biological Diversity said the water could contain large amounts of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste left over from the processing of phosphate ore.
"In addition to high concentrations of radioactive materials, phosphogypsum and processed wastewater can also contain carcinogens and heavy toxic metals. For every ton of phosphoric acid produced, the fertilizer industry creates five tons of radioactive phosphogypsum waste," the center said.
The FDLE said it is working with local departments to sample water from 11 different locations to assess the scope of the contamination. Those within a mile of the Piney Point plant have been asked to evacuate. Highways surrounding the area have also been closed to traffic.
The evacuation area covers roughly 316 households and the Manatee County Jail. The Sherriff's office said they had moved 267 inmates to a correctional facility in Polk County based on their individual risk factors.