Scientists look for link between wastewater and algae in Tampa Bay

Red tide present at Gulf Coast beaches

Aerial of runoff from Piney Point wastewater pond.
Aerial of runoff from Piney Point wastewater pond. (Manatee County Emergency Operations Center)

TAMPA, Fla. – Scientists are looking for any links to dreaded algae blooms and the pumping of 215 gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay from the site of an old fertilizer plant two months ago.

Scientists want to know whether the specific nutrients found in wastewater at the Piney Point plant match those being consumed by the organisms growing around the bay. They plan to use a kind of signature within different molecules to follow where nitrogen goes and how it gets used in the environment, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

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The wastewater was pumped into Tampa Bay in April after a leak developed in a reservoir at the Piney Point plant. The reservoir contained what are called phosphogypsum stacks, a leftover from the phosphate mined for fertilizer. The wastewater contained nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia and small amounts of radium and uranium, according to officials.

Algae called Lyngbya have blanketed waterways around Anna Maria Island in recent weeks, and red tide has been found at bloom levels near Port Manatee and off Pinellas County beaches. Dead fish have been reported at Sunset Beach, Madeira Beach and Indian Rocks Beach.

Health officials in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have issued advisories warning visitors they could experience mild respiratory issues when around a bloom.

Tampa Bay Estuary Program executive director Ed Sherwood said, it “doesn’t take much to put two and two together.”

Click here to see a map of red tide blooms in Florida.