Florida sheriff evacuates hundreds of inmates amid potential plant collapse

Florida declares state of emergency over toxic wastewater leak

Last Friday, a break was detected in a wall of the pond that holds billions of litres of the water contaminated by the old phosphate plant.

Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said at a press conference on Saturday that the most pressing concern is that the water could flood the area, which he said was agricultural and low in population density.

Amid the heightened threat, Manatee County Public Safety Department expanded an evacuation order to hundreds of homes in the surrounding area. Some families were evacuated in local hotels. The remaining inmates and staff on the first floor of the jail will be moved to the second floor, along with medical equipment, the paper reported.

Officials tried to plug the hole in the 8m deep pond with rocks and other material, but were unsuccessful.

Officials have warned about the risk of the reservoir collapsing and flooding the immediate area. "It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern".

The pond had begun leaking in March after which county officials began discharging water from it.

Then a portion of the pond's containment wall shifted, meaning a collapse could occur at any time.

"Collapse of Piney Point Stack Imminent!" an alert from county officials released at 11 a.m. Saturday said.

The department said the discharge water meets "water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen".

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According to Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes, with new resources of the state, crews will be nearly doubling the amount of water being released from the pond and taken to Port Manatee.

The environmentalist group said that it was never designed for stacking and should have never been permitted.

"So, again this is not water we want to see leaving the site".

The owner, HRK Holdings, did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

The pond where the leak was discovered contains stacks of phosphogypsum, a radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer, according to the Associated Press.

"This is my community, too", Barath said. Some algal blooms can also harm people who come into contact with polluted waters or eat tainted fish.

"For more than 50 years, this central Florida mining operation has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents", she wrote DeSantis in a letter about the Piney Point plant, which was originally constructed by Borden Chemical Company in 1966.

Hopes said the plan is not to fix the damaged reservoir liner.

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