JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An internal email obtained by the News4JAX I-TEAM from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission details how much coal ash has spilled from a leaking barge off the coast of Atlantic Beach.
The barge has been stuck for more than two months. The email reveals at least 9,300 tons of coal ash -- referred to as Agremax -- has leaked from the 418-foot barge and coal ash is sitting on the ocean floor.
In March, a Moran tugboat that was pushing the vessel from Puerto Rico lost control near the mouth of the St. Johns River, causing it to crash into the jetties.
The state’s pollution response team coordinator writes:
“Heavy weather/seas during the night of May 14, turned the barge 90 degrees and also blew most of the cargo hatch covers off. The cargo hold and Agremax product are now open to the elements with a noticeable turbidity plume around the barge. Our initial resources at-risk report indicate that Agremax toxicity is low in seawater, but the primary concern being physical smothering of benthic resources.”
″This is different than what we initially believed when we heard about this incident,” said Rod Sullivan, a maritime attorney.
Sullivan said the amount of coal ash that spilled is alarming. He fears it’s having a negative impact on the ocean environment.
“Agremax is used as a cap on landfills. Once it covers over the bottom of that area, nothing will get through it. So any sea life that was underneath it won’t survive, and I doubt anything is going to grow on top of it. So while I don’t have a concern of Agremax itself being poisonous to the water, it will destroy any sea life that it falls on,” Sullivan said.
Dr. Quinton White, executive director of the Marine Science Research Center at Jacksonville University, has also shared grave concerns over the ash.
“It gets picked up by the phytoplankton, eaten by the zooplankton, eaten by the small fish, eaten by the big fish and then we eat the big fish,” White said.
The state has been testing the water quality around the barge and could be releasing its results next week. News4JAX has requested any data related to those results.