The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, declared a state of emergency on Saturday after a significant leak at a wastewater storage pond threatened to cause flooding and collapse a system for storing radioactive material.
Officials in Florida were evacuating homes and a highway near the large reservoir in the area north of Bradenton. The Red Cross had been called in to help.
The state department of environmental protection said a break was detected on Friday in a walls of a 77-acre pond at the old Piney Point phosphate plant.
The pond holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen.
The Tampa Bay Times said the pond held about 480m gallons of wastewater before the company that operates it began discharging some of it to Port Manatee this week. At least 25m gallons had been discharged by early Thursday.
The Piney Point phosphate plant is also home to stacks of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertilizer that is radioactive, containing small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium. The stacks can also release large concentrations of radon gas.
Officials worry the collapse of the system could spew polluted water as well as more hazardous material into the area and bay.
State and local crews worked overnight to reinforce the breaches but residents within a half-mile radius of the pond received an alert via text saying to leave the area immediately because the collapse of Piney Point stack was “imminent”.
George Kruse, a Manatee county commissioner, said he was at the plant on Saturday with other officials and had to clear the area quickly.
“That’s when we determined that it was no longer safe to be anywhere near Piney Point, so we all kind of raced off the stacks as fast as we could,” Kruse said in a Facebook video.
Officials would explain later what they have observed, he said.