Race Against Time As Crews Work To Keep Florida Wastewater Pond From Collapsing

Crews in Manatee County, Florida are scrambling to keep a pond full of 300 million gallons of toxic wastewater from collapsing. CBS News’ Nancy Chen tells us about the possible dangers ahead.

Video Transcript

JIM WILLIAMS: Developing now, a state of emergency on Florida's Gulf Coast. Crews are scrambling to keep a large retention pond from collapsing. They need to contain 300 million gallons of stored toxic waste water that's been leaking for days. CBS 2's Nancy Chen tells us about the possible dangers ahead.

NANCY CHEN: The Florida National Guard flew in additional pumps Sunday, in efforts to prevent the collapse of a large wastewater retention pond in the Tampa Bay Area that began leaking last week.

RON DESANTIS: What we're looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation.

NANCY CHEN: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew over the Piney Point Phosphate Mine Sunday morning.

- The greatest concern at the moment for human health and safety is the risk of an uncontrolled discharge.

NANCY CHEN: Manatee County officials say a breach at the old phosphate plant reservoir could gush more than 300 million gallons of water in minutes, which could form a 20 foot high wall of water. As a precaution, more than 300 homes in the area have been evacuated.

VANESSA BAUGH: The steady drawdown of the process water has continued at Piney Point. And we have thankfully avoided uncontrolled breach that would have endangered people and property in the evacuation zone around the stacks.

NANCY CHEN: The ponds sit in stacks of phosphogypsum, a solid radioactive byproduct for manufacturing fertilizer that's right below the surface.

RON DESANTIS: But to be clear, the water being discharged to Port Manatee is not radioactive. It is primarily saltwater from the Port Manatee dredge project mixed with legacy process water and stormwater runoff.

NANCY CHEN: County officials reported progress Sunday in containing the situation, but warned the danger has not yet passed.

VANESSA BAUGH: Manatee County utility customers can rest assured that their drinking water is completely safe to drink. The water distribution system is a closed system without any way for floodwater to enter.

NANCY CHEN: A sizable leak was detected Friday and a state of emergency was declared on Saturday. Nancy Chen, CBS News.

JIM WILLIAMS: The pond began leaking in March and Manatee County officials have been discharging water since then.