Heavy rainfall and high winds from Hurricane Ian could cause some of Florida’s industrial sites to spill dangerous contaminants into local waterways, environmentalists warned Wednesday.

Two giant wastewater ponds at phosphate mines east of Tampa were of the greatest concern.

A pond at the Mosaic-New Wales mine has just 9.4 inches of water capacity, according to a filing submitted this month to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Jackie Barron, a spokesperson for the company, said “robust storm preparedness plans” were in place.

One of the pools at another site, Piney Point, which is in the process of being shut down, has 24 inches of storage capacity, according to the department.

Both mines are in an area known as Bone Valley, where much of the nation’s phosphate, a key component of fertilizers, is produced. Hurricane Ian is expected to pass directly over the area, bringing up to 2 feet of rain.

If the sites receive more rain than they can handle, experts say, wastewater could spill into major waterways, including Tampa Bay, as well as Florida’s aquifer, which supplies drinking water throughout the region.


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Pools at the sites can hold hundreds of millions, and, in some cases, billions of gallons of wastewater containing radon, uranium, radium and other carcinogens, said Ragan Whitlock, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. Spills can also contribute to algal blooms.

Even before the hurricane, some pools have been plagued by structural problems. Last year, Piney Point released 215 million gallons of wastewater into local waterways. This summer, the Mosaic-New Wales mine reported a tear in a pond liner that risks creating a sinkhole.

In addition to the phosphate mines, there are also coal ash ponds and dozens of active Superfund sites in the direct path of the hurricane.