Guest Op/Ed: Phosphogypsum and Radiation

Glenn Compton
Phosphogypsum stacks are located in Louisiana, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Arkansas and Florida. Phosphate companies have dumped in excess of 900 million tons of radioactive wastes in Florida and are producing over 30 million tons of phosphogypsum waste annually, as the industry continues to expand its dumping operations. Phosphogypsum has no economic value because of its impure content. 
Phosphogypsum has a high radium content. The lifetime cancer risk for adults resulting from exposure to this waste is one excess fatal cancer per 10,000 people. The risk for children is significantly higher. Radium can leach from gypsum stacks into subsurface aquifers, it can be absorbed by plants, consumed by livestock and wildlife and work its way through the food chain to humans. Radium's 1630-year half-life from phosphogypsum stacks will likely remain a public health risk for generations to come. The long term economic, environmental, and health impacts of this have not been fully realized. Phosphogypsum has been banned in all uses since 1992 because it causes cancer. 
Allowing phosphogypsum to be used in roadbeds could open the regulatory door for the use of phosphogypsum in construction or agricultural applications. This will put the general public at an unacceptable risk, as the phosphogypsum will become widespread in its distribution.
Phosphate rock from central Florida has some of the highest radiation levels in the United States.  The use of central Florida phosphogypsum will unnecessarily expose workers, the environment, and the general public to otherwise avoidable radon and gamma radiation exposure.
Unlike some approaches used to "solve" water pollution problems, dilution of levels of radionuclides to acceptable low-levels is not feasible.  There is a health risk at every level of exposure to radiation and possibly an increased risk at low levels of exposure.
All uses of phosphogypsum can cause significant health risks. The radioactive decay of this material will emit particles that can cause increased cancer risks and unacceptable radiation levels in areas normally not having such problems.
In addition to high radium 226 levels, central Florida phosphogypsum also contains significant amounts of sulfur and various heavy metals such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, and lead. Contaminated water and dissolved materials containing these toxins have the potential to seep from phosphogypsum used for construction purposes and pollute the underlying aquifer.
More stringent environmental regulation to control the adverse impacts of phosphogypsum is needed. Allowing for the widespread distribution of phosphogypsum will lead to less oversight of a dangerous waste product. The EPA and DEP lack adequate regulations needed to protect the public and the environment from hazards associated with gypsum stacks and dispersal of phosphogypsum. 
The phosphate industry should not be permitted to externalize the costs of their phosphogypsum waste disposal problem at the public's expense. The cost is too high. 

Glenn Compton is the Chairman of ManaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Reader Comments
Nancy Rowse Dean[email protected]
MAY 19  •  As a victim of cancer unknown primary (CUP), this is my most likely exposure cause.
SOPHIA[email protected]
MAY 19  •  Well this is very disturbing! Sounds like our Gov. needs to make this a priority BEFORE this is used to make his new super roads through the State. And stop the mining and dumping! Hello!? DeSantis...