Amanda Chappel Examines Long-term Impacts of Wastewater Discharges

Amanda Chappel, a PhD student in environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida, was part of a rapid response team mobilized in April 2021 to address the accidental discharge of approximately 215 million gallons of untreated, high-nutrient wastewater from a former phosphate mining facility into the Tampa Bay estuary. Researchers like Chappel are working to understand the long-term implications of industrial discharges like this on coastal systems, specifically, the impact of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertilizer, which becomes a stressor on the environment during spills and releases.

Chappel monitors water samples on parameters such as nutrients, temperature and salinity.

“What began as an emergency response has since grown into a two-year study to assess not only ecosystem responses directly after the discharge took place, but also the longer-term ecosystem responses, as dynamic systems like estuaries can often have “lags” in responses,” said Chappel. “By looking at both the Bay’s water and bottom habitats, we can provide an understanding of the short-term and long-term effects of the Piney Point discharge events on Tampa Bay’s nutrient cycling, harmful algal blooms, and seagrass.”

During these two years, Chappel and UF ecologists Elise Morrison, Andrew Altieri and Ed Phlips have been studying the ecosystem effects of coastal eutrophication in the bay, which occurs when the environment becomes enriched with nutrients. This research will advance effective management strategies and solutions to minimize anthropogenic impacts to coastal systems.   

The team is also examining discharge events from previous decades to understand how multiple events could have cumulative impacts and modify food webs. This project is funded by the Ocean Conservancy and the National Science Foundation.