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Heightened Blue-Green Algae Levels Found In Waters Near Piney Point

 The Department of Environmental Protection is testing water around the area where more than 200 million gallons of polluted water was released.
The Department of Environmental Protection is testing water around the area where more than 200 million gallons of polluted water was released.

Researchers monitoring water quality near the former Piney Point phosphate plant have identified increased levels of blue-green algae in the area where more than 200 million gallons of polluted water was discharged recently.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported late Friday that varying levels of cyanotoxins have been identified in water samples in Tampa Bay, increasing chances that the discharge at Piney Point will trigger a blue-green algae bloom.

Blooms reduce oxygen in the water and can harm marine life and trigger fish kills. The DEP said as of Friday, there are no reported fish kills in the area. Humans exposed to a bloom can experience rashes, skin, eye irritation, and effects such as nausea, stomach aches, and tingling in fingers and toes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state report on Friday showed levels of cyanotoxins ranging from non-detectible traces to a concentration of .34 parts per billion. According to U.S. Department of Environmental Protection guidelines, these numbers fall on the very low end of causing acute health risks.

The tests continue to be conducted in the waters of Tampa Bay, from Apollo Beach in Hillsborough County to the north, and as far south as an area near Holmes Beach in Manatee County. The state says it will continue to post results on an interactive water quality dashboard as they become available.

The massive discharge of the nutrient-rich water started just over two weeks ago, when officials at Piney Point identified a leak and potential breech at one of its reservoirs. It may be one of the largest releases of contaminated water ever in Tampa Bay.

Water samples began being collected soon after the discharge began, but officials said it could take weeks before the effects of the spill would be seen. Scientists from the University of South Florida College of Marine Sciences say the effects could linger for months.

The state reported that while researchers from USF’s School of Geosciences are surveying the reservoir for leaks, no water is being discharged into Port Manatee. Repairs continue on a detached plate meant to cover a tear on the reservoir’s liner.

As of Friday, the state says it continues to identify ways it can treat the approximately 213 million gallons of contaminated water in the event it needs to be discharged.

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