A small town in Florida came close to tragedy as a giant wastewater pond nearly collapsed. The town was evacuated. However, this incident is bound to occur again, as the United States has more than 21,000 facilities that handle toxic waste, and over 2,500 of them are located in zones prone to flooding. Some of these facilities are open-air ponds, like the one in Florida.
Local companies that vary from petrochemicals to mass cattle production dump their contaminating waste into artificial lakes. It goes without saying that these cesspools are toxic to anyone who lives near them, not only due to the fumes they release, but also because of the high risk of breaking down, and flooding the local environment.
In the case of Florida, their solution to the potential breaking of their fortified waste lagoon was to release millions of gallons of its tainted water into local water sources. According to New York Times, “the environmental effects of such a large release of contaminated water remained unknown.”
These sullied waters can become quite toxic for a person or animal to be around. As reported by New York Times, these lagoons can form a crust, trapping gases. When the crust bursts, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia can be released which significantly impacts the local air quality.
In addition to that, when a natural disaster happens, whether it is a hurricane, tornado, or flash flood, how could an open-air lagoon keep its contents at bay? Unfortunately, accidents due to natural disasters have happened many times already. According to the New York Times, in Florida, a flood caused by a tropical storm paralyzed the power supply of a pumping system. Consequently, chemical water overflowed into the Suwannee River, spreading phosphoric acid into every pore of the local ecosystem.
The only known effects of wastewater flooding the environment is the overgrowth of algae that will drain oxygen levels in closed water sources like lakes and ponds. They are then named “dead lakes,” as any living organisms living in them asphyxiate due to the algae overpowering the oxygen supply.
According to the United Nations University, North America generates around 85 cubic kilometres of wastewater every year, one cubic kilometre equating to one trillion litres. The Obama administration regulated this issue in 2015 by requiring planners of these buildings to account for the increase in flooding. The Trump administration then promptly removed it. Due to this issue, chemical companies have continued to build these ponds in flood-prone areas, investing massively in regions across the Gulf shoreline.
As sea level rises, continental shorelines will become prone to constant flooding yearly. These toxic ponds will then regularly mix with natural waterways and bring enormous natural consequences to the local and global ecosystems. The government of the United States must take action to circumvent this eventual disaster. Florida’s close miss should be an incentive for all countries that emulate this technique to remain aware that environmental consequences can have a perpetuating effect to local ecosystems and, ultimately, make them inhabitable.