Phosphogypsum is a major hazardous by-product of fertilizer production. Phosphogypsum is dumped at various locations throughout Florida in hazardous waste phosphogypsum (gyp) piles, these gyp piles can pollute our groundwater, leach into our rivers and bays, kill and contaminate our marine life, and pollute our air.
Legislation is needed that provides effective means both to protect our groundwater and to protect the residents of Florida from the harm posed by the existing phosphogypsum hazardous waste problems in our State.
To date, not a single Florida legislature has proposed any form of legislation that would reduce the hazards caused by the phosphate industry to nearby populations.
In general, the phosphate industry is barely regulated nor monitored for the possession, use or discharge of radioactive materials associated with phosphate rock and its products and byproducts.
Florida’s groundwater resources are vulnerable to contamination since a large portion of the state is covered by very permeable soils and sand. Overlying limestone permits contaminants from disposed areas to move rapidly through unsaturated soils and enter the groundwater.
It is not acceptable or equitable to permit the phosphate industry to continue to externalize the costs of their operations in the form of increased health and property risks and heavy financial burdens for the people of Florida.
If we are going to have an adequate groundwater protection law, we can't continue to ignore what is one of the largest hazardous waste sources in Florida.
Since hazardous waste and groundwater are so closely related, Florida needs to correct inadequacies in the present state groundwater rule and provide adequate funding for its enforcement. As is, primary and secondary drinking water standards are the only enforceable groundwater standards that exist in Florida.
If the health and well-being of the citizens and the future of our state are to be protected, a more balanced approach to funding Florida’s groundwater program needs to be pursued. While we recognize the need to improve our educational system and our highways, we also believe adequate protection and regulation of the lifeline of Florida, its groundwater, takes priority. The cost to fully implement an adequate state groundwater program is small compared to the costs cited as necessary to improve our highways. Adequate funding, subsequent monitoring, regulation, and enforcement of a groundwater program is vital to the success of a hazardous waste program.
As far as passing a law to overrule the local government's right to veto a pollution prevention law, the legislature should not attempt to force local governments to accept polluting sources that pose a potential threat to the well-being of their residents.
The real cost of dumping phosphogypsum is not borne by the producer of the waste or the disposer but by the people whose health and property values are destroyed when the wastes migrate onto their property and by the taxpayers who pay to clean it up.
Harmful phosphate wastes, and radioactive and toxic gyp stacks should not be allowed to continue to grow in Florida.
Phosphogypsum waste constitutes an imminent hazard to humans and the environment, a hazard that cannot be overstated.
Phosphogypsum ponds have been found to have cadmium, chromium, and other heavy metals in excess of EPA standards, qualifying them as toxic wastes.
It is not unusual to find gypsum pond pH levels as low as 1.5-1.7 qualifying them as corrosive wastes. Hydrogeologic conditions favor the entrance of contaminants to at least the water table and upper Floridan aquifer. Also, acidic gypsum water can react with limestone resulting in the development and enlargement of cracks permitting the movement of contaminated water into the groundwater.
The phosphate mining industry is one of the most destructive industries in Florida. It is also one of the smallest industries in Florida. Why should it be permitted to continue to expose people living near these dumps and people exposed to drinking water and foodstuffs contaminated by these dumps to increased risks of cancer because of their relatively unregulated toxic and hazardous waste?
Phosphate companies should be required to eliminate the public hazards that their wastes have created and should be prohibited from making the problem any bigger in the meantime by adding to their gigantic waste heaps.
No regulation or weak regulation to control the problems associated with phosphate mining is not acceptable. Continuing to try to ignore the health problems created by the phosphate industry will not make them go away but will merely add to their magnitude in the form of increased cancer and birth defects.
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.