Hurricane Irma could flood toxic waste sites in Tampa

Mining waste piles contain low levels of radiation and other toxins

Hurricane Irma could flood toxic waste sites in Tampa


By Lyle Adriano

As Hurricane Irma makes its way toward Tampa Bay, some are concerned that the weather event could lead to flooding at some of the region’s most toxic waste sites.

The hurricane was classified as a Category 3 storm Sunday afternoon. Reports say that the storm’s center was on track to reach the Tampa Bay area later today (Monday).

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One of the biggest concerns for the area is a possible storm surge resulting from the hurricane’s arrival. In June, a report by property information firm CoreLogic said that nearly 455,000 Tampa Bay homes could be damaged by hurricane storm surges – the most damage in any major metro area barring Miami and New York City. The report also said that the cost to rebuild all those homes would amount to $80.6 billion.

Tampa Bay’s toxic waste sites could make matters even worse if they get hit by a storm surge, however.

In an interview Thursday with Bloomberg, US environmental chief Scott Pruitt said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hard at work securing 80 Superfund sites – areas designated as some of the most toxic places in the nation by the EPA – in Irma’s path from Miami to North Carolina.

“Operationally, we’ve tried to make sure we apply the same type of approach we used in Texas,” Pruitt said. “Because of the area and the amount of population that’s affected in Florida, we’re trying to be even more aggressive.”

The US Geological Survey outlines that Tampa Bay has 27 hill-sized piles of waste containing low levels of radiation and other toxins. Some of these piles, the byproduct of Florida’s phosphorus mining industry, are 500 feet tall.

One of the piles has already caused a major environmental problem.

Last year, a huge sinkhole opened up underneath one of the piles, sending millions of gallons of contaminated mine wastewater into the Floridan Aquifer (a source of drinking water for millions). It was only earlier this year that the owner of the waste, Mosaic, finally managed to create a preliminary seal.

Repairs to the seal, however, are not finished and could be vulnerable to the storm.

Mosaic spokeswoman Callie Neslund told The Associated Press on Sunday that the company has been working to complete repairs.

“Our efforts to reinforce and strengthen the (sinkhole) seal are proving effective,” Neslund said.

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