[Coral-List] No Harm Evident As Waste Dumping Continues In Gulf [Five barge tr ips haul 22 million with 178 million gallons still to go] (Tampa Tribune, 8/7/03)

Precht, Bill Bprecht at pbsj.com
Thu Aug 7 11:11:58 EDT 2003

And another
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No Harm Evident As Waste Dumping Continues In Gulf

   By STEVEN ISBITTS, sisbitts at tampatrib.com

   Tampa Tribune


CLEARWATER - On Thursday, a state official said there is no evidence that
treated phosphate wastewater dispersed into the Gulf of Mexico has caused
fish kills or elevated red tide levels recently found off Florida's west
``All of our monitoring data, water testing and satellite interpretation
does not provide any implications that there is potential for ecological
harm from the wastewater in the Gulf,'' said Charles Kovach, a biologist
from the Department of Environmental Protection.

Kovach is overseeing the state's monitoring of the wastewater, which comes
from the defunct Piney Point phosphate plant in Palmetto.

The DEP is executing a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permit to
remove highly toxic untreated wastewater from storage ponds at Piney
Point, treat it and dump it into the Gulf.

During the past year, above-average rainfall at Piney Point has put the
ponds in danger of overflowing into Bishop's Harbor and subsequently
contaminating Tampa Bay estuaries.

In July, the DEP began pumping treated wastewater into a barge that has
been traveling to the Gulf to spray the water in an area 120 to 140 miles

200 Million Gallons In Pipeline

The barge has made five trips and dispersed about 22 million gallons of
treated wastewater, DEP spokeswoman Deena Wells said.

Dozens of additional barge trips are planned before the EPA permit expires
Nov. 30. The DEP hopes to disperse 200 million gallons into the Gulf,
Wells said.

For months, fishermen and environmentalists have been concerned that high
nitrogen and ammonia levels in the wastewater could cause red tide, an
algae that can kill fish and cause respiratory ailments in humans.

Phosphate Didn't Turn The Tide

Since the dumping began, the Florida Marine Research Institute in St.
Petersburg has recorded low to medium red tide levels from Collier County
to Dunedin.

The red tide likely has led to dead fish washing up on Pinellas County and
Sarasota County beaches during past few weeks, said Beverly Roberts, an
algal bloom expert with the Florida Marine Research Institute.

The entire 4 1/2-mile shoreline of St. Pete Beach was littered with dead
fish for most of Wednesday, leading to the first major beach cleanup of
the year, said Scott Graubard, the city's public works director.

Graubard said crews cleaned throughout the day, but there were no beach
closings. He said he expects the cleanup to continue today.

Three miles north at Madeira Beach, few dead fish were seen Wednesday,
Madeira Beach City Manager Jim Madden said.

Two weeks ago, Madeira Beach was affected by a fish kill that marine
biologists also attributed to red tide.

But the red tide bloom has been present since before the wastewater
dumping, Roberts said.

Wednesday, the DEP released the first interpretation of satellite tracking
of the wastewater.

The report comes from the University of South Florida's College of Marine
Science, which is being paid $93,000 by the DEP to study satellite images
daily until the permit expires.

USF scientists Chuanmin Hu and Gabe Vargo agreed with Kovach's statements
about the treated wastewater's effects on the Gulf.

Hu said his lab will issue a weekly interpretation of satellite data,
which can be accessed in the Piney Point section of the DEP's official Web
site, www.floridadep.org .

Reporter Steven Isbitts can be reached at (727) 799-7413.


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