We all need water. It is a physiological need for all life on Earth. Lack of proper water sources in a community would easily constitute a public health crisis.

Sphere Project standards for humanitarian aid state that 15 liters of water per day are required to sustain life. This water also needs to be clean and suitable for drinking (i.e., no major contaminants).

Some may be aware that there is currently just such a public health crisis going on in Florida. In Manatee County (specifically at Piney Point), a former phosphate processing plant is leaking toxic wastewater. The wastewater storage is in a “pond,” but the body has not had the best maintenance. It is now at risk of collapse and leaks. If the wastewater pond collapses, it will leak tons of toxic waste into many of the waterways and land of the state. It, however, is not as simple as it seems.

One of the significant issues with this public health crisis is that due to the location (more central to the state) that any release of contaminants would surely disperse toxic waste throughout the region.

Florida itself is a peninsula. Water surrounds the majority of its landmass. Due to the location of the toxic waste pond at Piney Point, a spill could spread into the aquifer and larger bodies of water such as Tampa Bay. This leak could lead to a catastrophic disruption to water supplies in the area.

Beyond the lack of water supply for communities, there is the risk of the state not being fully aware of the exact moment the leak would begin to contaminate the water. Thermal imaging has been used to determine if there have been breaches to the reservoir. This imaging, however, is not able to determine the exact amounts of runoff when breaches occur.

Governor DeSantis declared a state of emergency. The Department of Environmental Protection releases daily updates regarding Piney Point maintenance and upkeep. It also seems that the state has begun to pump the wastewater elsewhere to a more suitable holding location. Tampa Bay updates report the results of widespread water testing.

Overall, the state may have lucked out and avoided a catastrophic event.

It seems as though the attention of the state turns to the issue just in the nick of time. Thankfully, the people in charge of repairs and removing the water have been successful (thus far) at removing it.

The main question we have is, why did it take this long to address this potential public health crisis? How can we hold our elected officials more accountable to keep an eye out for these things? How many more of these toxic water holding areas are at risk of leeching off into our potable water supplies? What impacts will these leaks have on the public?

Community planning can help us to become aware of the potential hazards around us. It may not inform us of all hazards in our area, but if enough of the community begins to participate, we can broaden our range of knowledge. Perhaps the involvement of civil engineers in community planning efforts would help to focus on the issues of wastewater storage and treatment. The more knowledge that the community holds, the less they need to rely on the state/local government.

Let us know if you were aware of this public health crisis or if there are others crises we may be unaware of ourselves.

Leave a Reply