GILLETTE -- The neighbors of the enormous former phosphate plant at Piney Point are scared to drink their well water.
They’re scared to shower in it.
One of them found dead fish in a ditch near her home Tuesday, where contaminated runoff had rushed past from massive leaks at the former gypsum stacks.
And they’re still seeing discharge from the facility, a day after officials announced they had halted the leaks.
“I’m not happy because, you know, that stuff is dangerous,” said Jose L. Moreno, an auto mechanic who lives in the 2700 block of 113th Street East.
He lives right between two ditches that threatened to flood his residence over the weekend.
The company that now owns the former phosphate plant property, HRK Holdings LLC, shut off some pumps after Moreno complained, and the water went down, he said.
Now that it has receded, his property is covered with gray residue. Scum lines the ditches.
Moreno has been drinking bottled water, but Wednesday he was wondering whether he should stop washing his dishes or taking showers in the water from his well.
Had it been contaminated during weeks of discharges from the HRK facility?
Although state officials have said the discharges were not expected to impact area drinking water wells, they are offering to do a test “in an abundance of caution,” said Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Three residents have accepted, she said Wednesday.
“Once the sampling results are received, we will provide the results to residents and will address any additional questions or concerns they may have at that time,” she said. “The sample results also will be shared with the Manatee County Health Department and we will coordinate with them on the results.”
On Tuesday, officials announced that the company had finally halted the leaks, which amounted to as much as 3.88 million gallons a day. Repairs to the facility, which has been converted to dispose of dredge material from Port Manatee, were under way. The port has suspended its dredging until the facility is repaired.
But Wednesday, a sickly yellow discharge again flowed from the southwest corner of the site at 13300 U.S. 41 N.
State officials allowed “a limited discharge” because thunderstorms had been forecast, and “water levels needed to be brought down to prevent overflow of the emergency spillway in the area,” Miller explained Wednesday evening in an email. The discharge will be monitored, she added.
State water quality tests last week found the discharge contained about 10 times the amount of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal, than state standards allow.
Sharon Armstrong, another resident on 113th Street East, said she found seven dead fish in a ditch near her home, which sits between two big ditches that carried water from the HRK site toward Bishop Harbor.
Armstrong, a retired lab tech who worked at Tropicana Products for 45 years, also is concerned about whether she should shower in her well water.
Born and raised along Buckeye Road, where former gypsum stacks now cover 400 acres and tower 75 to 90 feet high, she recalls when clean water used to flow there.
“I used to see the fish swimming through here so pretty,” said Armstrong, 70. “Now, it’s all this nasty stuff.”
Stay-at-home mom Jackie Geisler has lived in the community just south of the HRK facility for five years. A resident of the 3300 block, she is raising three kids.
She’s worried about their drinking water.
On Wednesday, she decided to switch from well water to bottled water, and she plans to have her well water tested for contaminants.
HRK officials first reported problems at their facility May 11. They determined that water was leaking from the site because of ruptures in a plastic liner that covers the floor of the former gypsum stacks, where dredge material is handled.
On May 29, state officials allowed emergency discharges to ensure the structural integrity of the site.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.