Wastewater hazards in Southwest Florida spark environmental concern in Florida and beyond

Wastewater hazards in Southwest Florida spark environmental concern in Florida and beyond

April 14, 20212 min read

Over the last week hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater have spewed from a former fertilizer plant in Piney Point, Florida that was abandoned in 2001 and taken over in 2006 by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The location is adjacent to Tampa Bay, a 400-square mile body of water that separates Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg, and is full of fish, crabs, seagrass, dolphins, manatees, and seabirds of every kind.

The state plans to close Piney Point, scientists are trying to forecast what comes next, and environmentalists fear algal blooms and fish kills (also known as fish die-offs).

“There are hundreds if not thousands of these waste storage ponds in the United States and each one is a ticking time bomb,” says M. Metin Duran, PhD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University College of Engineering, whose expertise is the biological processes of environmental engineering, including public health microbiology and biological processes for waste management. “The last major disaster was in December 2008, when a 40-acre pond used by Tennessee Valley Authority for the coal-burning Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed. The aftermath included damage to the area’s ecosystem, and law suits.”

Regulations regarding waste storage ponds are at the state level, and they aren’t very strict, says Duran. “Though there are strict design and groundwater monitoring requirements to ensure waste does not cause groundwater pollution, these waste impoundments are prone to have issues under extreme weather events such as heavy rains. With the increased frequency of such events recently, there is a risk that more of such may fail.”

Duran adds that it can be difficult to predict short- and long-term effects of the Florida case, but the reported low level radioactive contamination could cause major damage to aquatic life and properties, and that phosphorous and nitrogen would cause eutrophication in Tampa Bay, as well.

To speak with Duran, email mediaexperts@villanova.edu.

Connect with:
  • Metin Duran, PhD
    Metin Duran, PhD Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering | College of Engineering

    Metin Duran, PhD, is an expert on using beneficial microorganisms to re-mediate pollutants and remove harmful microorganisms from water.

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