Florida phosphate industry mining practices reveal and how "they" adversely affect environmental aspects of Florida citizens’ surroundings for over two generations and working on three. Current phosphate industry mining practices "overlook" today’s proven environmentally sound practices causing costly unwanted hazardous collateral damage to the Florida landscape as though it is "their" right to do so.
In the past two decades, the Unites States Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) studied the effects of radioactive elements occurring naturally in the Florida landscape compared to the highly compacted toxic waste by-product phosphogypsum stacks in west central FL.
The DEP allows for a small level of radioactive emissions up to 0.7picocuries. The toxic elements mentioned here are in the decay chain of uranium called "radium" as a solid and "radon gas" as an air born toxin. These elements are normally confined deep below the surface, but the mighty phosphate dragline strips them from the fabric of the earth until it removes the phosphate matrix it seeks. In doing so, radioactive elements are brought to the surface, highly compacted, and stored in giant highly toxic mounds called phosphogypsum stacks.
The radioactive material is combined with other toxic waste by-products and piled in phosphogypsum stacks, some over two hundred feet in height and may cover over four hundred acres. That is the equivalent to a twenty story building covering four hundred acres of radioactive materials. Florida is home to at least twenty seven radioactive phosphogypsum stacks and each toxic stack is still growing. The "stacks" are so toxic, the DEP will not allow the phosphate industry to move the phosphogypsum off site or sell it.
Florida subdivisions in Lakeland, FL built on "reclaimed" phosphate facilities reportedly show a higher than normal "radium" presence in the ground samples taken by the DEP. "Radon" gas was also higher than normal in doors, both reported by the DEP. The DEP states on their website that any contact with radium from soil ingestion or inhaling radon gas in the air around phosphate facilities is "too" much. One can see that living near or working in a phosphate plant can be harmful to one’s health.
The areas around phosphate facilities in central Florida usually consist of cattle ranches and agriculture with some residential areas as well. The surrounding flora absorb (uptake) the toxic elements caused by phosphate mining, through the root system into the leaves from reclaimed mined soils. The plants store cumulative amounts of toxins so the toxic materials move from the ground into the food chain through cattle ranching and agriculture for examples. The amount of toxins found in the flora is soon found in the fauna as well. Domesticated and wild animals are exposed to the same tainted food sources, introducing the toxins into the entire local food chain.
In one decade, at least six phosphogypsum stacks failed in west central Florida. A phosphogypsum stack caused a sinkhole to form in the stack bottom and drained billions of gallons of toxic waste into a two million cubic foot hole caused from a surface collapse. The amount of environmental damage was so extensive that the DEP was unable to determine the total loss associated with the spill.
In another stack failure, a 150 foot hole opened under a "stack" and 80 million tons of radioactive toxic waste disappeared into the Floridan aquifer, which contains about 90 percent of central Florida’s drinking (2) water. The toxic waste amount overwhelmed officials so much that the amount of (1) environmental damage was undetermined. It cost almost 7 million dollars to fill the sinkhole with concrete.
In another phosphate industry induced accident, a phosphogypsum stack failed and almost 2 million gallons of radioactive toxic waste flowed over the landscape and two cars driving by the plant were carried away with the flow of toxic waste.
In another stack breach it cost nearly 30 million dollars in repair cost for the phosphate plant. This mountainous phosphogypsum stack is in Riverview, FL. Florida’s taxpayers were responsible for covering the cost to recover from severe local environmental impacts from the "stack". Each time a phosphate industry "accident" occurs; water quality, quantity, and air degrade, causing health issues for many Floridians as well.
Unfortunately, central Florida’s phosphate industry locates their facilities in watersheds where the production of fertilizer causes the greatest environmental damage to the landscape, drinking water, wild animals, and human inhabitants.
Phosphate facilities severely pollute and disrupt the landscape locally and miles away from mining operations due to phosphate facilities built in central Florida’s watershed. This is because watersheds and lowlands are nature’s way of cleaning toxic materials from drinking water resources as the water "percolates" through karst rock formations into Florida’s aquifers below.
Florida’s phosphate facilities are considered by the DEP to be the greatest threat to Florida’s environment including land and aquatic life forms. The examples mentioned above include a small number of phosphate facilities severe environmental impacts. Each incident described above displays poor environmental stewardship from an environmentally blind industry.
1. Phosphate Companies and EPA's Toxic Release Inventory. - fipr.state.fl.us/about-us/phosphate-primer/phosphate-companies-and-epas-toxic-release-inventory/.
2. NCSU Water Quality Group. Human Impacts: Wetland Loss and Degradation. - water.ncsu.edu/watershedss/info/wetlands/wetloss.html.