Jackson County

Millions of gallons of treated acid water released into Bayou Casotte, changing water color

The EPA is releasing up to 40 million gallons of partly treated acid water from the gypsum stacks of east Pascagoula to make room for the rain and surge expected with the approaching storm, Nate. The discharge changes the color of the water for about 40 to 50 yards. It’s hard to see in this photo, but the discharge appears on the opposite side of Bayou Casotte as a light colored strip.
The EPA is releasing up to 40 million gallons of partly treated acid water from the gypsum stacks of east Pascagoula to make room for the rain and surge expected with the approaching storm, Nate. The discharge changes the color of the water for about 40 to 50 yards. It’s hard to see in this photo, but the discharge appears on the opposite side of Bayou Casotte as a light colored strip. klnelson@sunherald.com

In advance of Tropical Storm Nate, expected to be a hurricane, the EPA announced it would have another release of millions of gallons of partly treated acid water from the Mississippi Phosphates gypsum stack.

The Sun Herald went to Industrial Road to check out what that would look like. This is a controlled release of what they expect to be 40 million gallons of the acid water — with sodium hydroxide added to neutralize it — into Bayou Casotte, a waterway that has been dredged deep to accommodate industry on its banks.

The Atlanta EPA spokeswoman said the partly treated water, “doesn’t pose long-term risk to wildlife.”

There’s a 700-million-gallon lake on top of the gypsum stack that won’t be able to take the 3-5 inches of rain predicted with Nate, plus storm surge.

So mid-day Friday, the EPA was overseeing the piping of water from this lake atop a 100-foot gypsum stack, under Industrial Road, to the treatment plant on Mississippi Phosphates property along Bayou Casotte.

The partly treated water was then going to a diffuser 38 to 40 feet under the surface of the bayou where it was being released.

Those who know the bayou could see the disturbance on the water and a light-colored plume extended for 40 to 50 yards, but no dead fish floating.

The EPA said the idea is to avoid an uncontrolled release, which in the past has caused fish kills. It’s all part of a contingency plan, laid out, which also requires installing the hurricane surge gates.

It was sunny Friday, and the green water of the bayou was inviting. The plume was a distinctly lighter color from the surrounding water.

Those working on the project still have a lot of water to release and just a few days to do it before Nate hits.

“They just started pumping Thursday,” said CC Williamson at the bait shop on the bayou. “It’s about the third day that I can’t keep anything in my tanks alive. When they do it slow, it doesn’t bother me. But when it’s an emergency release, it kills everything in the tanks.”

Williamson uses water from the bayou to run through his huge bait tanks.

“I know when it starts, because I see the disturbance on the water,” he said. This is the second big release since the beginning of summer, when rains were so heavy.

The first one lasted through two weekends, he said. At some point, it looked like they were “pumping a milk shake over there,” he said, talking about the color of the discharge coming up from the bottom of the bayou.

It’s too much fresh water coming into the salt water bayou, he said, fresh water and whatever chemicals are in it.

It begins as rain that becomes acidic and slightly radioactive when it falls on the gypsum stack and is collected in the lake on top. The waste gypsum is acidic because sulfuric acid was used in the process of making fertilizer. There’s also heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and lead in the wastewater, as well as nitrogen, phosphorous and ammonia.

The fertilizer company went bankrupt and the EPA took over wastewater treatment in February. It plans to continue there until the plant is sold or cleaned up and closed.

The grounds are proposed as a candidate for the Superfund National Priorities List.

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