People for Protecting Peace River (3PR) continues to remind us of the inaction of our government agencies which allows our health and environment to be put at risk. The phosphate industry has already caused catastrophic damage to the Alafia River and Tampa Bay, and Mosaic and the FDEP have already acted covertly to hide potential health risks from the public.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
3PR Petitions EPA to Reconsider Phosphogypsum
Anyone vaguely familiar with phosphate mining, beneficiation and fertilizer processing in this part of central Florida has undoubtedly heard of “phosphogypsum” stacks or “gyp stacks” for short. They are nothing less than man-made mountains of toxic processing waste from the manufacture of phosphate fertilizer. Phosphogypsum stacks can grow to well over one square mile wide (800 acres) more than 200 feet tall. and can store over a billion gallons of process water – acidic wastewater from the fertilizer manufacturing process that is pumped into ponds at the top of the stack to evaporate and leach its toxic burden.
These massive geographic landmarks are typically seen around forsaken communities like Mulberry and Bartow (east of Tampa) that have been exposed to the ravages and obvious environmental degradation of phosphate strip mining and fertilizer manufacturing for a century or more. There are more than 20 of these stacks in this part of the state – many of them created before there was any environmental regulation of the fertilizer industry. Gyp stacks are essentially the industry’s chosen method of disposal of waste generated from phosphoric acid production – an essential ingredient in agricultural fertilizer. The process creates 5 times as much waste as final product.
Included in phosphogypsum are numerous toxic constituents some of which are radioactive. “Phosphogypsum is not merely calcium sulfate, but is also rich in nutrients and comprised of several contaminates including radionuclides (uranium, thorium and radium, which decay to radon gas), toxic heavy metals, fluoride, ammonia, and residual phosphoric and sulfuric acids.”
In fact, as many people in this part of central Florida are aware, in the recent past there have already been a number of large scale accidents associated with gypstack failures resulting in significant damage to the quality of water in nearby rivers causing massive fish kills, affecting the birds that rely on fish life for food and a healthy riverine environment for nesting. These spills also have had lethal effects on the shell fish of the benthic (bottom) zone. One of the most significant and recent of these accidents took place in 1997 at phosphate processing facilities near the Alafia River, 35 miles east of Tampa Bay. A similar accident took place in 2004 during the most horrific hurricane season in recent Florida history when high winds caused waves to lash the walls of a gypstack causing it to rupture sending 65 million gallons of process water into Tampa Bay. Similar accidents have taken place in Mississippi and Texas in 2005 and 1992.
Geologists believe that on a number of occasions the heavy weight of the stacks along with the acid process water leaks beneath the stacks have caused the natural limestone substructure on which the stacks were built to subside. This has taken place at least 4 times at a fertilizer plant known as New Wales, operated by Mosaic Company, in Mulberry near Tampa. The most recent took place in September 2016 when the entire pool of contaminated water at the top of the stack disappeared into a sinkhole underneath and entered the aquifer below. The incident wasn’t even reported to the public until several weeks after its occurrence. Later Mosaic, the company responsible for the disaster, claimed there was no proof that the acidic, radioactive process water left their property…
As national environmental protection laws were introduced in the 1970’s, almost 40 years ago now, two new legislative initiatives were passed into law that should have affected the construction of the gypstacks: RCRA and TSCA (Resource Conversation and Recovery Act, and Toxic Subtances Control Act of 1976) which as their titles would indicate were conceived to deal with situations exactly like this where a multi-million dollar industry is literally producing mountains of toxic waste in the midst of our recreational waterways, atop our source of drinking water and hovering ominously over residential communities. The bitter irony is that, although these monumental legislations were passed at the highest levels of government to protect normal citizens from the immediate and cumulative effects of industrial toxins in their living environment almost a half century ago, the fertilizer industry, Congress and the EPA have effectively resisted or compromised the administration of these environmental laws because of its effect on their bottom line. Thirty-five years later the EPA has still not taken the decisive action necessary to implement the very laws that were conceived to thwart these egregious industrial insults to the fragile and unique environment of central Florida – which is now also home to about 9 million people.
Next we’ll find out why…. And thus we come to 3PR’s current legal challenge…. (to be continued)
Dennis Mader for 3PR News