MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — A team of scientists from the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science will head into Tampa Bay to study the environmental impacts of Piney Point.

Progress is being made to fix the problem and the immediate concerns with the leak have dissipated. The evacuation order for homes in the area has also been lifted and the roads are back open.

Now the focus has shifted to trying to figure out the environmental impact of all of this.

What You Need To Know

A team of USF scientists are headed into Tampa Bay Wednesday morning to examine the situation. They are conducting research aboard the R/V Weatherbird II, a vessel that was also used in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response.

The team plans to collect water samples, sediment, and fish from both Tampa Bay and Port Manatee. When the scientists return, they will examine the oxygen, salinity, pH, nutrients and carbon levels in the water.

They are trying to get some clear answers as to what happens to water chemistry when wastewater mixes with seawater, and how do the changes in water chemistry affect marine life?

There are more than two dozen pumps working to push over 23,000 gallons of water per minute out of the former phosphate plant’s largest retention pond.

As of late Tuesday, more than 180 million gallons of contaminated water have been drained from the large reservoir and into Port Manatee, which then leads to Tampa Bay.

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said the agency has been testing water samples and they have all met quality standards. However, the water has elevated nutrient levels and is acidic. 

The question remains how this wastewater will mix with saltwater in the bay? And residents who live by Piney Point have even deeper concerns.

"Absolute relief that our home is safe from any kind of flooding or toxic water,” said resident Suzy Ardila. “But we are really concerned about our wells. We have two wells here. We don’t know how that’s going to affect our well water."

County officials say that well water and drinking water are safe.

A number of state agencies are on the ground by Piney Point Wednesday looking into the environmental impact. 

For now, Manatee County commissioners have authorized a permanent solution for Piney Point. They are moving forward with deep well injection. The water will be treated, then put into a well on county owned property. Valenstein said the process can take up to three years.