MANATEE -- Residential wells near a former Piney Point phosphate plant that had been leaking met drinking water standards for all tested parameters, state officials said Wednesday.
The state tested wells of three residents living near the site, which is now owned by HRK Holdings LLC, and found no reason for concern, said Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, in a summary provided with water quality testing results.
“These water quality test results show no exceedances or concerns for any of the applicable primary drinking water standards, she said.
“We believe it is important for the public to understand these residential well sample results, and the corresponding standards that are protective of drinking water quality.”
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Manatee also reported results Wednesday of recent water quality testing at Bishop Harbor.
The results showed high levels of nutrients, like phosphorous and nitrogen, in the ditch system leading to the harbor.
But the numbers dropped off steeply as the sampling moved west toward Tampa Bay, according to Robert C. Brown, manager for the environmental protection division of the Manatee County Natural Resources Department.
High levels of nutrients can produce harmful algae blooms, but Brown was hopeful that not too much ecological damage had occurred as a result of the leaks at the HRK facility.
“We really haven’t seen any indications of algae blooms,” he said.
The discharge from the HRK facility came into the harbor from its back end, on the east side, he said.
“It’s settling out there, so it’s not traversing the entire harbor,” Brown explained. “It’s settling in the ditch system, and at the mouth of harbor, and the rest of the harbor appears to be unaffected.”
Among the state’s water quality findings in neighborhood wells: Cadmium, a highly toxic heavy metal, measured less than the detection limit of .05 micrograms per liter; the state drinking water standard is set at 5 micrograms per liter, officials said.
The same was true of arsenic, which measured less than the detection limit of 0.25 micrograms per liter; the state standard is 10 micrograms per liter, they said.
“Given the nature of the leak, the efforts taken by site personnel, and the features of the closed site, the department does not believe the surface water discharge from the site represents a threat to any drinking water sources,” the summary said.
DEP officials were planning to complete water sampling from two other wells Wednesday at the request of a homeowner, Miller said. Any requests for additional well testing will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, she said.
A member of the Sierra Club’s phosphate committee, Percy Angelo, said after seeing the results, “It is questionable to say there are no concerns.”
The results reflect only primary drinking water standards, and not secondary ones, she said, and are not shown in any context of past test results or location of wells tested.
Groundwater flow direction and timing must be considered, she added. And fluoride levels, although they were less than the standard, may indicate some impact on wells from the discharges at the facility, she said.
“The fact that there is no violation yet doesn’t mean that there will not be impacts in the future as groundwater flows continue,” Angelo said. “Further monitoring, maps and data on groundwater flow would be important to understand the possible future impacts,” she said.
The company, with the blessing of state environmental officials, converted the former phosphate plant at 13300 U.S. 41 N. to dispose of dredge debris from a Port Manatee construction project.
But last month, the company reported difficulties, and on May 29, state regulators issued an order allowing emergency discharges to ensure the integrity of the huge structure. Millions of gallons per day drained through ditches in the area and into Bishop Harbor, a part of the Terra Ceia Aquatic Buffer Preserve.
State water quality tests at Bishop Harbor found cadmium levels within state standards, but nearer the site, they were more than 10 times higher, according to state officials.
After it finally halted the leaks last week, the company has been cleaning up the area. And it is trying to repair its facility and re-start dredging.