[Coral-List] No harm from wastewater found [Scientists have not yet observed i ll effects in the gulf] (St. Petersburg Tiems, 8/7/03)

Precht, Bill Bprecht at pbsj.com
Thu Aug 7 11:03:20 EDT 2003

Dear Coral-List:

Here is more follow up to the earlier news articles that have been posted
and the responses that followed.


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No harm from wastewater found

Scientists monitoring the dumping of Piney Point wastewater have not yet
observed ill effects in the gulf.

   By CRAIG PITTMAN, craig at sptimes.com
      Times Staff Writer

   © St. Petersburg Times

published August 7, 2003


Scientists monitoring the dumping of waste from the Piney Point phosphate
plant into the Gulf of Mexico have seen no adverse effects so far, they
announced Wednesday.

"To date we have found no Red Tide or other toxic algal blooms," Gabe
Vargo, one of the scientists from the University of South Florida
monitoring the dumping since it began last month, said during a conference

State officials touted the analysis by Vargo, who looked at water samples,
and Chuanmin Hu, who reviewed satellite images.

"From the point of view of the satellite images, we are pretty safe now
from Tampa down to Naples," Hu said.

Mitch Roffer, a Miami-based oceanographer hired to monitor the dumping for
the fishing industry, said he agreed that so far there is no apparent
problem. But the findings did not satisfy activists, who worry that
dumping the ammonia-rich waste into the Gulf of Mexico will create an
environmental disaster.

"The evidence is far from conclusive in either a positive or a negative
way," said Joe Murphy, who is in charge of coastal issues for the Florida
chapter of the Sierra Club.

Two years ago the owners of the Piney Point plant just south of the
Hillsborough-Manatee county line abandoned it. They left behind a massive
gypsum stack topped with ponds full of acidic wastewater.

Rains have pushed the water level so high that the state Department of
Environmental Protection feared it would spill into Tampa Bay and
devastate wildlife for miles around.

So DEP officials persuaded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to let
them treat hundreds of millions of gallons of the waste to lower the acid
content, then dump it into the Gulf of Mexico. The dumping begins about
120 miles from Pinellas beaches.

So far, the barge New York has made four trips into the gulf and dumped 22-
million gallons, DEP officials said Wednesday. As of this weekend the
current had carried it as far south as the Keys, prompting some questions
about its effect on spawning corals and other underwater species there.

"It's something that we're tracking because we do have concerns," said
Billy Causey, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine
Sanctuary. But so far, he said, "we have not seen anything which we could
connect with that discharge."

Satellite images showed that even before the dumping began, that area of
the gulf was catching a flow of nutrient-enriched water from the
Mississippi River, Hu said.

Murphy, the Sierra Club activist, suggested that the Mississippi flow
should have persuaded DEP officials to avoid putting even more nutrients
into that area.

"We shouldn't have to wait for a catastrophe to make changes," he said.

Charles Kovach, a DEP scientist, said the waste appears to be diluting
rapidly as it spreads, lessening any chance that it could stimulate a
bloom of harmful algae that could lead to fish kills and other problems.

On the Web

To see USF scientists' reports on satellite images of the state's dumping
in the Gulf of Mexico, go to: http://imars.marine.usf.edu/Piney_Point/


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