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The Phosphate Industry Needs Additional Regulations

The Myakka River is an Outstanding Florida Water (OFW) and must not be further polluted. More than 22,000 acres of land have the potential to be mined for phosphate in the Myakka River Basin. Phosphate companies have an interest in at least 22,375 acres of land in the Myakka River Basin not yet approved for mining.

In 1985, the Legislature of Florida adopted the Myakka River Wild and Scenic Designation and Preservation Act (Section 258.501, Florida Statutes), which designated a 34-mile segment of the Myakka River within Sarasota County as a "Florida wild and scenic" river. These designations are intended to provide additional protection to special waters recognized for their ecological significance, by providing the highest degree of protection under the State of Florida permitting policies.

ManaSota-88 is concerned that future phosphate mine discharges will degrade the Myakka River, generate low dissolved oxygen levels, and significantly increase pollutant levels. Phosphate mining activities have the potential to adversely impact downstream waters. It is critically important that every phosphate mine water quality discharge permit be reviewed to ensure the highest degree of protection for the Myakka River.

Additional requirements are necessary to study the direct and indirect impacts on surface waters; ground waters; upland, wetland, aquatic, and estuarine habitats; listed species; and other natural system features in the Myakka River Basin.

All mining activities that degrade the Myakka River must be prohibited. Because of the potential adverse impacts associated with phosphate mining, it is important to have a clear understanding of the potential adverse impacts on the Myakka River before additional mining begins.

Phosphogypsum Generation and Waste Disposal Issues Need to be Strengthened

There are additional environmental and health impacts associated with the processing of phosphate after it has been mined. Fertilizer plants generate large piles of radioactive phosphogypsum and significant amounts of corrosive hazardous acidic waste as a by-product of processing phosphate. The cumulative health effects of the radioactive exposures associated with phosphate mining, processing the phosphate ore, and storage of the radioactive phosphogypsum waste need to be assessed.

More stringent environmental regulation is needed to control the adverse impacts of phosphogypsum. Phosphate rock for central Florida has some of the highest levels of radiation in the United States.

Allowing for the widespread distribution of phosphogypsum should be prohibited as this would lead to less oversight of a dangerous waste product.

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 also be found in phosphogypsum used as a soil conditioner for agricultural purposes, it can be absorbed by plants and consumed by livestock and wildlife. Radium's 1630-year half-life from phosphogypsum stacks will likely remain a public health risk for generations to come.

As additional phosphate mining occurs, what will be the fate of the phosphogypsum waste produced from additional phosphate extraction? Phosphate mining operations and the link to phosphogypsum waste disposal are not required in any federal, state, or local permit. Cumulative impact analysis of phosphate extraction cannot possibly occur without linking mining operations to phosphogypsum waste disposal.

Gypsum ponds have been found to have cadmium, chromium, and other heavy metals in excess of federal and state standards. It is not unusual to find gypsum pond pH levels as low as 1.5. Seepage from slimes can contain high levels of radionuclides and other toxins. Levels of radium as high as 2000 picocuries per liter are not unusual.

The highly acidic gypsum ponds also emit fluoride and radon gases, which are harmful to humans, plants, and animal tissues.

Issues Associated with Phosphogypsum include:

1. High Radionuclide Levels. Phosphate rock for Central Florida has some of the highest levels in the United States. Phosphogypsum waste resulting from the processing of phosphate rock contains an average of 30 pico curies per gram of radium 226. The use of central Florida phosphogypsum will unnecessarily expose workers, the environment, and the public to otherwise avoidable radon and gamma radiation exposure.

2. Increased Health Risks. All uses of phosphogypsum can cause significant health risks. Allowing phosphogypsum to be used for construction or agricultural purposes will put the public at an unacceptable risk, as the phosphogypsum will become widespread in its distribution. 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.

3. Increased Groundwater Contamination. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has documented significant groundwater pollution contamination from phosphogypsum disposal. 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 or agricultural purposes and pollute the underlying aquifer.

4. Lack of State Regulatory Oversight. 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 DEP lacks adequate regulations needed to protect the public and the environment from hazards associated with gypsum stacks and the dispersal of phosphogypsum. Proper regulations requiring phosphate companies to make the final disposition of gypsum wastes in an environmentally acceptable manner do not exist.

Post-mining Land Reclamation Requirements Need to be Strengthened

Reclamation is not the same as restoration and this distinction clearly needs to be made. For all tributaries of the Myakka and Peace rivers, restoration should be performed, not just reclamation or mitigation. No mining should occur within 1,000 feet of any river, stream, or creek.

Conservation easements should be required for all rivers, streams, creeks, and wetlands. Hardwood wetlands should not be mined, as the technology does not exist to restore hardwood wetlands.

Clay-settling areas have low infiltration, high surface runoff, and little base flow. There is clear and convincing evidence that phosphate mining has had a significant impact on the Peace River.

Past phosphate mines have left behind a legacy of toxic slime ponds with soils that are less previous because of their clay content. Phosphate mining can and has impacted the Peace River base flow.

Groundwater recharge and movement through a clay settling area is significantly less than in natural conditions. As early as 1993, it was known that water levels in clay-settling areas respond more slowing to rainfall recharge.

Much of the mined-out land is reclaimed as lakes. While the industry has touted these lakes as good fishing areas and wildlife habitats, mining, and subsequent reclamation reduce plant and animal diversity of community structures in the mining region. The number of plants and animals in an area is directly related to the number of vegetation types. The same factors that affect the habitat quality of reclaimed land areas also affect the habitat quality of adjacent and nearby wetlands that are not mined.

Additional Studies are Needed

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) should conduct additional studies to determine the long-term health effects of exposure to toxic and hazardous substances associated with current and former phosphate mining and processing sites located in Florida.

EPA has stated that as many as 40,000 people living on former phosphate mining lands in central Florida are being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation from contaminated indoor air in central Florida homes. 21 former phosphate-mining sites may be eligible as Superfund candidates for EPA's National Priorities List.

Additional studies needed to be done include:

1. Conduct a comprehensive health risk analysis on all Florida phosphate-reclaimed mine sites. 14 reclaimed phosphate lands are currently in use by the public as recreational areas throughout the state. Additional testing is needed to determine the extent and source of pollution at these reclaimed mine sites.

2. Conduct inorganic and radiochemical surface water and fish tissue sampling in an ongoing monitoring process at all former phosphate sites currently accessible to the public for fishing. The contaminated sites may adversely impact several endangered or threatened species, as well as anyone consuming fish caught at the former phosphate mines.

3. Conduct an ecological risk assessment at the former phosphate mine sites. Radium-226 and radium-228 have been identified at levels above the EPA cancer risk screening concentration of 0.16 and 0.19 pCi/L on-site at the Tenoroc Fish Management Area (TFMA). Land mined for phosphate exhibits higher radioactivity at the surface than it did before mining. Phosphate mining exposes radioactive materials and can increase surface and groundwater radiation levels.

The elevated levels of radiation identified at TFMA pose a considerable threat to human health and the environment.

4. Conduct measurements for the purpose of determining employee exposure to toxic and hazardous substances, and the potential for long-term health effects of living or working on-site at TFMA and other former phosphate mine sites. EPA should determine if TMFA is in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and OSHA Regulations (Standards - 29 CFR).

5. The elimination of clay settling areas should be an achievable goal. Studies paid for by the phosphate industry should investigate changes in processing procedures and reclamation procedures to eliminate CSA’s.

6. Radiological impact assessment on the public and the environment because of changes in the radioactive content of water resources should be done. The redistribution of Uranium 238, radium - 226, and radon - 222 needs to be analyzed. Radium - 226 can be ingested through drinking water, and Radon - 222 can be breathed in associated with dust from mining operations.

7. The long-term effects of low radiation doses resulting from future mining activities need to be studied.

8. Remediation standards for soils or structures identified as having unacceptable radiation or radon levels need to be assessed.

9. Cancer mortality rates in the Central Florida Phosphate region for the bone valley region need to be studied.
Unless the public demands action, our land and water resources will continue to be seriously damaged or destroyed, and our health and that of future generations will continue to be placed in jeopardy.

As public awareness of the negative impacts of the phosphate industry on the environment increases, the need to further regulate this polluting industry will become evident.

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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