Gov. DeSantis declares emergency against possible spill of hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted water

Phosphogypsum stacks like this one, photographed near Fort Meade in 2007, contain radioactive waste. Credit: Harvey Henkelmann via Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency in three counties amid the threat that a phosphogypsum stack in the Tampa Bay Area could collapse and spill hundreds of millions of gallons of radioactive water into surrounding neighborhoods and the bay itself.

The situation at HRK Holdings’ Eastport Terminal facility constitutes an “an immediate and substantial danger to human health, safety, welfare and the environment,” the governor said in an executive order signed Saturday.

“I therefore declare that a state of emergency exists in Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties due to the proximity of these counties to the facility,” the order says.

“I further find that in the event a dangerous release is imminent, central authority over the evacuation of these counties will be needed to coordinate the evacuation, because the evacuation will exceed the capabilities of the local governments in these communities.”

A lined compartment on the site holding 480 million gallons of polluted water left over from fertilizer manufacturing had been leaking for days. Officials had been attempting to fill the leak but concluded on Saturday that a major breach might be imminent, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, a Democrat, wrote a letter urging the Republican governor to convene the Florida Cabinet to confront the situation.

“The immediate evacuation of residents, disruption of families during Easter weekend, and potential environmental catastrophe requires the attention and action of Florida’s statewide elected leadership,” she wrote.

She noted “numerous, well-documented failures — which continue today — of the property’s reservoir liner, including leaks, poor welds, holes, cracks, and weaknesses that existed prior to purchase by the current owner, HRK Holdings, and exacerbated since.”

Some 25 similar stacks, as high as 200 feet, are scattered around the state.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.