Hazardous Waste in Roads
Phosphogypsum is the radioactive waste product left over from the production of fertilizer, and Florida has a lot of phosphogypsum.
Two bills (HB 1191 & SB 1258) have recently been introduced in the 2023 Florida legislative session that would authorize the Florida Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of using phosphogypsum in road construction and no longer classify phosphogypsum as a solid waste in some instances.
High radionuclide levels, increased health risks, increased groundwater contamination, and lack of state regulatory oversight are some of the many reasons why phosphogypsum should not be used in road construction.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other studies have determined that the use of radioactive phosphate gypsum wastes as building materials is unsafe and should not be done. This decision reflects the EPA's past concern that the radium-bearing waste, if spread throughout Florida, would present a public health threat that would continue for generations, given radium's 1,630-year radioactive decay half-life.
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.
Some elected officials are aiding the phosphate industry in their efforts to convince people that phosphogypsum will soon become an important asset in the form of material used for construction. It appears some legislatures are advancing the interests of the phosphate industry and needlessly risking the health of future generations.
More stringent environmental regulation to control the adverse impacts of phosphogypsum is needed. Allowing for the widespread distribution of phosphogypsum for road construction will lead to less oversight of a dangerous waste product. The EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection lack adequate regulations needed to protect the public and the environment from hazards associated with gypsum stacks and dispersal of phosphogypsum.
The distribution of phosphogypsum in road construction will unnecessarily expose workers, the environment, and the public to otherwise avoidable radiation exposure.
To allow the use of phosphogypsum as a construction material is the height of irresponsibility. Allowing phosphogypsum to be used for road construction will open the regulatory door for the use of phosphogypsum in construction or agricultural applications. The radioactive decay of this material will emit particles that can cause increased cancer risks and unacceptable radiation levels in areas that normally do not have such problems.
To date, there have been no published scientific studies confirming that there is a "safe" industrial process to convert phosphogypsum for uses such as roads. All uses of phosphogypsum can cause significant health risks.
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.
Phosphate companies have had more than 70 years to figure out a way to dispose of their radioactive gypsum wastes in an environmentally acceptable manner but have yet to do so. Instead, the industry is producing tens of millions of tons of waste annually, and the industry continues to expand its dumping operations.
ManaSota-88 does not believe the phosphate industry should be permitted to externalize the costs of their phosphogypsum waste disposal problem at the public’s expense. The cost is too high. More stringent regulation is needed to control the adverse impacts of alternative uses of phosphogypsum, not only in the United States but worldwide.
Our elected officials are mandated to protect the health of the environment and the people of Florida. However, in this case, it appears that some legislatures are serving the interests of the phosphate industry and needlessly opening the door to future distributions of radioactive phosphogypsum wastes.
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.
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Reader CommentsGlen Gibellina
MAR 18, 2023 • 2 resources you need to watch for the real answers and facts: Attorney Jaclyn Lopez: Florida’s Frightening Phosphate Problem Presentation https://youtu.be/nC6bLMEan7M Filmmaker Erik E. Crown joins local water activists to investigate accelerated cancer rates and other illnesses in central Florida communities, tracing the source to phosphate mining. https://youtu.be/uH9XyRHs4uc For the Record
MAR 18, 2023 • If you want the skinny on Mosaic you can watch this documentary. Get to speak to the man who challenged the Phosphate Industry and won! Gary has worked relentlessly to bring awareness to the health effects of both mining and it's toxic waste such as Flouride. From "Love Canal" to Mosaic, Gary continues on his work everyday. You will not want to miss this!!!! https://www.youtube.com/live/xTYm_ccPIPY?feature=share
MAR 14, 2023 • The radioactive by product stone from phosphate mining is already used on hiking trails in national parks. They have to hide their waste. But it's even better to sell it. Just sick
MAR 13, 2023 • If people knew how little the donor class and officials in this state cared for them, they'd stop vacationing/moving here. Maybe the people who made the mess should figure out the clean up.
MAR 12, 2023 • We are living in a sacrifice zone. We're expected to put up with the risk of getting cancer and dying prematurely in exchange for the privilege of living near a beach that has dead fish washing up on the daily. But hey, a few multi-millionaires and their bootlickers can live really well. Capitalism!
MAR 12, 2023 • How in the world were these 2 bills introduced? Perhaps the Legislature needs a crash refresher course on the effects of radioactive material. Certainly, they won't pass ?! Otherwise, it would be just another reason to be leaving my once beautiful state which I consider Paradise.