Manatee County Commission workshops disposal of toxic wastewater

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. – At a workshop yesterday, the Manatee County Commission heard details of a plan to pump underground millions of gallons of toxic wastewater created by phosphate mining that has been sitting in the Piney Point gypsum stacks. The consensus coming out of that session is to slow down the project down.

The plan calls for the digging of two recharge water wells and one industrial injection well. Controversy surrounds the proposed industrial well, which will be used to pump the wastewater deep into the ground

"We have to do something with this water and we have to put it in a deep well confined to the salty aquifer," says Chris Klena with the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Water Resource Management.

The millions of gallons of phosphate mining wastewater is said to contain traces of toxic materials, and officials cite a 2011 incident where DEP allowed the release of water -- which at that time contained heavy metals, radon, cadmium, and high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen - into Tampa Bay as the rationale for the injection well.

"As one of our engineers said, these ponds are like tubs and they are old and leaky,” Klena says. “We just can’t take the chances that they are going to hold up."

The recharge wells would be dug about 900 feet in the ground and contain class 5 water. The industrial well would be much deeper -- bottoming out at about 3000 feet -- and it would contain Class 1 material that’s known to contain more contaminants. It’s the main reason some say the plan to inject water in to the ground is a bad idea.

"There've been a lot of problems with injection wells, even in areas with better stone," says Barbera Hines of Manasota 88.

According to Hines, the injection well will be sunk into limestone, which is known to dissolve in acid. And she says that since the Piney Point wastewater is highly acidic, it’s only a matter of time before the water supply is contaminated.

"What we are going to wind up with is polluted water that is going to affect our farming industry our fishing industry,” Hines says.

There are currently more than 240 injection wells in the state, but if Manatee County moves forward with the project it will be the first well of its kind to contain water that is high in phosphate and some of the other toxic materials known to be in the Piney Point waste. The commission will have to make the final decision on whether it’s a chance they are willing to take, but for now they will continue to study the issue and save any decisions for a later date.