A reservoir containing waste-water from a former phosphate mine in Piney Point, Florida, just off of Tampa Bay, leaked last month into a 79-acre system of ponds. The waste-water contains many dangerous chemicals, including significant amounts of radioactive materials, threatening both nature and local human populations. And the leakage was no small thing – two to three million gallons were pouring out every day. Over 300 homes had to be evacuated, and a state of emergency was announced over the weekend of April 3 when it appeared the reservoir could burst, flooding the region up to 20 feet with the contaminated water. The evacuation zone also contained a jail, of which only the bottom floor occupants were moved, potentially leaving others stranded and at risk in the flood.
In order to keep the area from flooding, hundreds of millions of gallons of waste water have been pumped into Tampa Bay, which this week Manatee County officials announced has succeeded in getting the leak mostly under control. But the effects on the bay and the Gulf of Mexico are yet to be seen. Since the waste-water contains nitrogen and phosphorus, some fear it could lead to algae blooms that can have disastrous effects on the ecology of marine life. Exactly how this will affect the gulf is unclear, but this much waste-water dumped into the ocean is clearly not a positive development.
While authorities say the situation is under control, this problem shouldn’t have existed in the first place. And it could hardly be called “solved.” The Piney Point reservoir has had repeated issues over the years. Officials in the region have known for well over a decade that the reservoir was headed for disaster, and they did little to nothing about it.
It’s not enough to say that this is a human-made disaster that’s been waiting to happen. Our species has the technological intelligence to prevent such calamities. It’s clearly a disaster made by the economic and political system we live under – capitalism – that prioritizes profit-making for a few over the survival of the many. Now more than ever it is clear that we need to fight for a different system – one that defends the planet and its inhabitants from the threat of avoidable disasters.