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Phosphate Mining


One of the most serious problems associated with the phosphate industry is the gypsum waste produced at phosphoric acid plants. At the present time there are no federal, state or local regulations requiring the industry to make final disposition of phosphogypsum wastes in an environmentally acceptable manner.

The phosphate industry has dumped in excess of  900 million tons of radioactive wastes in Florida and is producing over 20 million tons of phosphogypsum waste annually, and the industry continues to expand their dumping operations.

Phosphogypsum has no economic value because of its impure content. It is dumped at various locations throughout Florida in gyp stacks.  Piney Point in Manatee County is one example of a gyp stack.

Phosphogypsum that exceeds 10 picocuries per gram (pCi/g) of radioactivity has been banned from all uses by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1992. This decision reflected the EPA’s concern that the radium bearing  waste, if spread throughout the country, would present a public health threat that would continue for generations, given radium's 1,630-year radioactive decay half-life.

To date, there have been no published scientific studies confirming that there is a "safe" industrial process to convert phosphogypsum for uses such as landfill cover. Exposure to 20 pCi/g of radiation is not justified by any health study.  EPA should be developing a program geared toward protecting the public’s health and the environment from the radioactive components of phosphogypsum.

Allowing phosphogypsum to be used for landfill cover 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. The radioactive decay of this material will likely emit particles that can cause increased cancer risks and unacceptable radiation levels in areas normally not having such problems. 

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 will lead to less oversight of a dangerous waste product. 

EPA lacks the ability to protect the public and the environment from hazards associated with the widespread dispersal of phosphogypsum. The distribution of phosphogypsum will unnecessarily expose workers, the environment, and the general public to otherwise avoidable radon and gamma radiation exposure.

Phosphate companies have had over 50 years to figure out a way to dispose of the radioactive gypsum wastes in an acceptable manner, they have yet to do so. EPA should not permit phosphate wastes to be used in Florida landfills, or in construction or agricultural applications. 

Every possible effort to minimize radiation exposure to the public should be done. The EPA is mandated to protect the health of the environment and the people of this nation. However, in this case, EPA is serving the phosphate industry and needlessly opening the door to future distributions of radioactive phosphogypsum wastes.