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Measuring Piney Point’s impacts will take time, USF researchers say

Data on nitrates and phosphate will be important when determining the spill’s effect on Tampa Bay.

Scientists will be paying close attention to water quality data as they work to determine the environmental impacts that polluted discharges from the Piney Point phosphate plant have had on Tampa Bay.

But some of the most important data about nitrates and phosphates takes time to process, researchers say.

A team of scientists from the USF College of Marine Science on Wednesday took a vessel into Tampa Bay to study the area and bring back water samples.

But they don’t expect to have some of the results for days or weeks because some chemicals take longer to process and involve more resources, said Tom Frazer, Dean of the USF College of Marine Science.

“Let's say you're analyzing something for nitrate, or phosphate or something like that. There's a set of protocols that are in place. There's lab time involved and you have to run it through the various instrumentation to get that result,” said Frazer. “So some things move faster than others.”

The team will develop forecast models that show where they expect the polluted water to go and observe any anomalies in Tampa Bay.

The scientists didn’t find any large anomalies on the surface of Tampa Bay during their first day of research, Frazer said.

“We didn't see any fish kills or things like that. But that's why you collect the samples ... so we understand what types of nutrient concentrations are on the water,” said Frazer.

The team collected samples of bacteria and water to analyze types of phytoplankton that might be present. The researchers also collected samples of sediments and fish, to see if there are any contaminants that are in the tissues of those organisms, or in the sediments themselves.