WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Docks along Lake Martha are now plastered with signs reading 'temporary health hazard'.
According to Winter Haven Hospital, its team members detected a diesel fuel spill from an emergency supply tank Sunday night. In a statement to ABC Action News a hospital spokesperson says a faulty valve released the fuel and into a storm drain leading to Lake Martha.
BayCare Health System released the following statement:
"Late Sunday night, our team members at Winter Haven Hospital detected a diesel fuel spill from an emergency supply tank. They took immediate action to stop the spillage, which was caused by float valve failure. WHH hired US Ecology, a reputable remediation company, to start spillage clean up at 7 a.m. Monday.
Remediation, thus far, has included: concrete surface clean-up in area surrounding the tank, vacuum of a storm drain that is located near the tank, and lake water clean-up in Lake Martha.
The remediation company continues to monitor and treat the lake water for fuel remnants. Diesel fuel is known to float on water surfaces and is cleaned up by absorption with specialized floating booms. The company is also removing fuel residue from shorelines by churning the sand and vacuuming the residue.
Water and soil quality samples have been sent to testing labs as well.
The hospital is working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the City of Winter Haven to ensure compliance with all environmental requirements."
Carey Sempert, a woman living on the lake, says she noticed the spill right away. Sempert sent pictures to ABC Action News, showing how dense the dyed diesel was along the shoreline.
"The smell of the diesel was so overwhelming that the first morning that the fumes gave you a headache," Sempert said.
Sempert's neighbor says the odor was so strong her family could smell it inside.
"We could see the diesel fuel or gasoline all on the water everywhere and the smell was pretty unbearable," Tamara Tyner said.
As of Thursday the blood-red water was no longer colored. However, the smell of fuel was still in the air. From the sky, a sheen of diesel could be seen along the shorelines of Lake Martha.
"It’s very upsetting to think that health effects not only on us but the lake life and the animals and most of the ducks and birds are gone now," Tyner said.
ABC Action News checked with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). It confirmed this was the first incident the Winter Haven Hospital has had concerning the environment.
The DEP also said it's unsure of how long it could take to clear the lake or the consequences the spill could have on the lake, soil, and animals.
Water contaminated by dyed diesel presents several health risks to humans. Dyed diesel can cause skin & eye irritation, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory issues, and other conditions.
Anyone who comes into contact with the lake water should wash thoroughly, especially before eating or drinking. Children and older adults, as well as people with weakened immune systems, are particularly vulnerable so every precaution should be taken if in contact with the lake water.
Additionally, lakefront owners using lake water for irrigation are advised not to irrigate for the next few days.
For more information about the potential health effects of dyed citizens are encouraged to contact DOH-Polk at 863-519-8330.