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State releases assessment from grounding of barge Bridgeport off Atlantic Beach

Aerials show the Bridgeport refloated and attached to tug boats that will tow it into port.
Aerials show the Bridgeport refloated and attached to tug boats that will tow it into port. (WJXT/Sky 4)

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has released the sampling and assessment results that were taken in the waters near where a barge carrying coal ash has been stranded off the coast of Atlantic Beach for months.

An internal email from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM a week ago revealed at least 9,300 tons of coal ash -- referred to as Agremax -- had leaked from the barge Bridgeport .

In March, a 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 DEP took samples from 44 points on the sea floor near the Bridgeport and 17 pits along the shoreline. The 17 shoreline pits were all clear.

Four samples showed trace amounts of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and copper, and those four samples were near the barge.

The levels found in the four samples were:

  • Mercury: .0066 mg/kg
  • Arsenic: .97 mg/kg
  • Lead: .54 mg/kg
  • Chromium: 1.3 mg/kg

These levels are similar to or slightly higher than levels found in background samples taken by the DEP for comparative purposes. None of the sample values exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s marine sediment ecological standards.

Of the water samples taken near the Bridgeport, there were some findings of concern:

  • Barium: 13 µg/L
  • Boron: 3,900 µg/L

Both readings exceed EPA standards. While no levels or iron were found in the water near the barge, the background sample contained 850 µg/L, which is above EPA standards.

For greater clarity about the results of the assessment, News4Jax has requested to speak with the St. Johns Riverkeeper, DEP, an expert at Jacksonville University and the FWC.

The 418-foot barge has been refloated, but as of Tuesday morning it had not yet begun its journey to the North Florida Shipyards near TIAA Bank Field. The Coast Guard said that’s where it will be taken after being stuck for three months.