Inspection drones have detected a possible second breach in a pond of a former phosphate plant that threatens to collapse and spill hundreds of thousands of liters of contaminated water onto nearby homes and Tampa Bay, Florida authorities reported Monday.

“An infrared drone identified a signal that could indicate a second breach in the pond south of Piney Point,” said Jake Saur, director of public safety for Manatee County, on the west coast of this US state, at a news conference. .

Engineers are assessing the new situation, Saur added, as evictions continue in the Tampa Bay area amid the threat that the pool from the old Piney Point phosphate plant will flood the area with millions of gallons of contaminated water.

Experts continue to pump the water out of the pond at a rate of 35 million gallons per day (132,000 m3).

Acting Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes estimated Monday that there are currently about 300 million gallons of water in the basin, which before the breach contained 480 million, local newspaper Tampa Bay Times reported.

Contaminated water is being dumped into Tampa Bay in an effort to prevent a flood in the area that could spell a major disaster, even though the solution also threatens to collapse a delicate ecology on which marine life and tourism depend. .

Florida Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan said he was “very concerned” and called on the federal environmental protection agency (EPA) to get involved in the emergency.

“I hate to see what is happening,” he declared. “This is why I want EPA to get involved as well, because they probably have the best in terms of resources.”

– Fertilizers to the bay –

Residents of more than 300 homes near the abandoned mine in Manatee County were evacuating the area following the weekend evacuation order.

One of them, who identifies herself on Twitter as Missy Genneken, wrote that she had decided instead to stay and take the risk.

“We have chosen to stay home due to our distance from the pond,” he tweeted. “We don’t feel comfortable leaving the animals alone. We have our trucks packed up and ready to go if necessary.”

The first floor of the county jail was also vacated, authorities said. Some 345 inmates were transferred by bus to an undisclosed location, while the rest were taken along with staff to the second floor of the prison with just over 1,000 inmates.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in three counties in the Tampa Bay area on Saturday to free up funds and tackle the crisis.

Successfully avoiding potential flooding of the area around the old Piney Point plant can mean that all the contaminated water goes to the sea instead.

If this happens, “it would be like pouring 50,000 bags of fertilizer into the bay,” Ed Sherwood, director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, told the Tampa Bay Times.

DeSantis said Sunday that the wastewater “meets water quality standards for marine waters,” although it has excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen.

Seaweed grows very fast in these elements, and environmental groups fear that a discharge into the ocean of thousands of thousands of liters of these nutrient-rich waters could cause a deadly “red tide” or explosion of algae, which seriously affects not only marine life but also tourist activity.

lm / yow

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