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Scientists tracking environmental impacts from Piney Point wastewater release

Wastewater released from the former Piney Point fertilizer plant property has made its way to the uplands, back bays, estuaries and marshes along the eastern shores of Tampa Bay, putting a substantial amount of nitrogen in the water that could have detrimental effects on some of the region’s most sensitive and unique habitats.

Environmental advocates say Tampa Bay is an environmental success story in many ways, having recovered significantly from decades of pollution. Now they worry the bay’s recovery could be set back by the Piney Point disaster.

Teams of scientists are keeping a close watch on the bay as they work to understand the impacts of so much polluted water flowing into the ecosystem.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials authorized the release of roughly 215 million gallons of wastewater from the Piney Point facility starting March 31 in an emergency response to a leak in a containment pond liner. That leak eventually became a breach, led to the evacuation of hundreds of Manatee County residents from their homes and businesses, local and state-level emergency declarations and the mobilization of a $200 million effort to close Piney Point once and for all.