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USF Releases New Information About Water Quality Near Piney Point

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - The University of South Florida held a press conference releasing new information on the Piney Point reservoir leak. Two months after the initial leak, researchers say water quality is improving.

Scientists say images show a heavy amount chemicals and nutrients in the water at the beginning of the Piney Point leak, but an image taken on May 20 shows those chemicals have been diluted significantly since then.

Tom Frazer with the USF College of Marine Science says "The values that we are seeing today are much more typical of what we see in historical records."

University of South Florida experts say since their initial research samples taken on April 7, the water around Piney Point is looking healthier.

"The concentration of chlorophyl, which is a proxy for phytoplankton in abundance, were fairly localized and short-lived," said Frazer.

Researchers say the Piney Point leak created phytoplankton blooms, groups of tiny marine organisms that are at the very bottom of the food chain, and while they are little, they can become dangerous. Scientists say the blooms near Piney Point only live about ten days, compared to other blooms that can last several months.

Chuanmin Hu, USF researcher, says "Is that significant in that particular place? Yes. It never happened in that part of manatee neighborhood."

Scientists say people should look at this as a positive development and so far, when it comes to fish in Tampa Bay, there's no obvious negative impact yet.

Steve Murawski, USF oceanographer, says "We are in the process of looking at potential contaminants that could be there. I can tell you that grossly looking at the fish that we caught there, fish were relatively abundant off of port manatee. They didn't show any obvious signs of external signs like skin leashes."

USF researchers say there have been no major deaths among marine life, and they are now studying metals in the water like copper, lead, zinc, cadmium, and iron, but it will be a while before we see the long-term impacts from one of Florida's largest environmental disasters.

"It takes time to work its way through the system and certainly in terms of pollution in fish and shellfish, it takes a while for them to work their way through so to actually determine potential issues. We shouldn't be walking away from this yet. We need to keep some vigilance in monitoring," said Murawski.

USF researchers say they are continuing to look at the impacts of the Piney Point spill and we should see some of those impacts this Fall.

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