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High levels of toxic cadmium dumped into Tampa Bay

The water gushing from a former phosphate plant into the Gulf of Mexico in North Manatee County contains high levels of two toxic metals and nutrients that could harm a precious Southwest Florida fishery.

About 45 million gallons of contaminated water has already flown from the former Piney Point phosphate plant through pipes that lead into nearby Bishop Harbor, a Gulf bay that is a sensitive habitat for fish and wildlife.

The contamination could trigger algal blooms that would damage seagrass and the marine life habitats they host, and could eventually lead to a fish kill in Bishop Harbor, experts said.

Some sea life, including blue crabs and shrimp, could also absorb the chemical cadmium, which was found in the water at a level more than 9 times above the state safety standard, according to lab results released late Tuesday by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Cadmium is found in rocks mined to produce phosphate fertilizers and does not corrode quickly.

"It will be a toxic introduction to the harbor for many years to come," said Glen Compton, chairman of the environmental group Manasota-88, which is monitoring the leak.