Whether it’s banning references to climate change, or sending armed goons to invade the home of a scientist calling out false COVID numbers, the Florida Republican Party hasn’t been shy about suppressing or ignoring science that relates to ongoing crises.
That’s why it was rather alarming to hear that Florida governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency over a looming industrial disaster.
Work crews were pumping millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater into an ecologically sensitive Florida bay on Sunday, as they tried to prevent the “imminent” collapse of a storage reservoir at an old phosphate mine.
Officials in Manatee county extended an evacuation zone overnight and warned that up to 340m gallons could engulf the area in “a 20ft wall of water” if they could not repair the breach at the Piney Point reservoir in the Tampa Bay area, north of Bradenton.
In addition to the direct kinetic and water damage of a flood that size, mine waste ponds tend to contain toxic, often radioactive materials, as in this case.
Crews are working both to plug the leaks, and to drain the pond, but it’ll be a little over a week before they’re done. In the meantime, the area is being evacuated.
If you do a quick search for “mine tailing disasters”, you’ll see that this is neither a new problem, nor one that is limited to any one part of the globe. The reality is that dealing with the problem of mine waste has been put off more or less indefinitely, rather than cutting into profits to address the issue. It should come as no surprise to my readers that I think this is not a problem that can be put off much longer.
Obviously climate disasters like storm-fueled floods or drought-fueled dust storms or fires can spread toxic waste, but “storage solutions” like this also put drinking and irrigation water at risk. Unfortunately I think the problem goes deeper than that. As I mentioned this past September, the industrial activity involved in non-fossil energy technology is neither cleaner than any other form of mining and manufacturing, nor is it exempt from the ways in which the profit motive encourages companies to cut corners and ignore problems.
I very much hope that the immediate danger is averted, and neither the homes, nor the jail in the flood zone are harmed. Once the crisis has passed, however, the larger problem remains, and as with so many others, the longer we delay dealing with it, the more it will cost in blood and resources to deal with it.
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Marcus Ranum says
Some of this stuff is really terrifying. For example, they’ve shut down the reactor at San Onofre, but there are still tanks of 2,000 tons of radioactive waste in cooling ponds, I believe they are switching them from active cooling (huge pumps circulate cold water around them to keep them from melting) to passive (air cooled) but … it’s a crumbling coastline subject to tsunamis. And it’s not far from San Diego.
How do these things happen? As you say: politicians kick the can down the road and eventually all hell’s to pay and they clutch their temples and whine, “who could have known this might happen!?!”
Marcus Ranum says
re: my comment above
the picture’s pretty scary. Looks like about a 12-foot seawall. That’ll be fine, right?
Abe Drayton says
And as ever, these are solvable problems, as long as profit isn’t a consideration.