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Phosphate processing plants in the greater Tampa Bay region have caused some of Florida's worst environmental disasters. Accidents like the spill at the former Piney Point plant fill the history books in Florida.

With a deep well complete, polluted Piney Point water will soon be injected underground

Piney Point, as shown in an aerial photograph in 2022.
Drone Base
Piney Point, shown in an aerial photograph in 2022.

The Piney Point plant has had several spills, with the latest coming in 2021, when 215 million gallons were released into Tampa Bay to relieve pressure from a leak.

The digging of a deep well at the troubled Piney Point phosphate plant in Manatee County has been completed. Now, workers will soon inject millions of gallons of polluted water deep underground.

The well reaches down more than 3,000 feet, well blow the level of the drinking water aquifer. It will be used to dispose of pre-treated process water — the water held in the phosphogypsum stacks that contain byproducts of phosphate mining.

Manatee County officials say the disposal will begin next week. About 4 million gallons a day will be injected underground.

More than 250 million gallons are currently held in the stack, according to the latest estimates by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

In 2021, about 215 million gallons of nutrient-rich wastewater were released into Tampa Bay to relieve pressure on a leak. Some studies saythe release worsened an outbreak of red tide in the bay that killed millions of fish and marine life.

Officials say about 50 million gallons have already been siphoned out of the stack and treated to remove pollutants.

Currently, there are six other deep-well injection sites in Manatee County — one operated privately, one run by the city of Bradenton, and four under the authority of Manatee County Utilities.

Emergency funding from the state of Florida is helping pay for the well, with millions of dollars earmarked for the clean-up and closure. The site is eventually going to be re-lined, capped, and finally topped with soil and sod. That is expected by spring of 2024.

Piney Point closure timeline
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Piney Point closure timeline

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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