Have you ever seen a stack of phosphogypsum, aka a “gypsum stack”? For a beginner, this is a breathtaking sight – a 400 acre “mountain” rising to the height of a 20 story building. For a resident of central Florida, this is the normal bottom view.
If you climb that 200-foot slope, you can see its contents – as much as an 80-acre acidic lake with pH levels as low as 1.5. And this lake is likely to exist for some time, because the radioactive radium it is made of has a half-life of 1630 years.
To this soup is added a significant presence of sulfur, as well as lesser amounts of arsenic, barium, cadmium and lead. The fertilizer industry in Florida produces about 30 million tonnes of it each year; the more than 900 million tonnes that have been produced so far fill about 25 of these “mountains” in Florida, a state well known for its heavy rains and sinkholes.
Exposure to phosphogypsum – which can seep from gypsum piles into underground aquifers, can be absorbed by plants, consumed by livestock and wildlife, and find its way through the food chain to humans – is known to cause cancer in 1 in 10,000 people who come in contact with it.
Apparently, there is no need to worry, as the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Department of Environmental Protection are sure it is safe. In fact, Mosaic Industries, the owner of most of the gypstacks, claims to be “… one of the most regulated companies in the state of Florida. “
Yet in 1997, a 56 million gallon spill turned the north branch of the Alafia River into a deadly zone, damaging 377 acres of habitat and killing or injuring any wildlife that could not evacuate quickly enough. In 2016, a sinkhole in one of the gypsum piles sucked 215 million gallons straight into the Florida Aquifer, which provides water to virtually everyone in Florida north of Palm Beach. There are many stories of minor spills and leaks between these incidents, and they continue to happen.
According to Glenn Compton, President of Manasota-88, “The DEP currently lacks the adequate regulations needed to protect the public and the environment from the dangers associated with gypsum piles and ponds. There are no appropriate regulations requiring the final disposal of gypsum waste in an environmentally acceptable manner.
Now the EPA has found a solution. Reversing a ban in place since 1992 and ignoring its own expert consultant, who uncovered numerous scenarios that could expose the public, the EPA in October approved the use of phosphogypsum in road construction.
Characterized by Jaclyn Lopez, director of the Center for Biological Diversity in Florida, as “a political favor for the fertilizer industry,” the move clearly subjects road builders as well as the general public to unacceptable levels of radiation.
As a result, a coalition of conservation and working groups has assembled a series of informative articles, videos and statistics on PhosphogypseFreeAmerica.org. At the heart of the website is a public petition asking the EPA to reconsider its irresponsible and dangerous decision to allow the use of phosphogypsum in road construction.
The petition goes further by calling for stricter oversight and regulation of hazardous waste more closely aligned with the spirit of the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act, which were designed to control production, transportation. , processing, storage and disposal. hazardous waste for the sake of public safety and protection.
We urge everyone to review the content of the website and remind the EPA through the petition that it is responsible for protecting human health and the environment and that it is not. designed for the protection of the fertilizer industry.
Michael Roth is President of Our Santa Fe River Inc.