EPA Reverses Policy: Approves Using Phosphate Waste To Build Roads

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has quietly approved the use of phosphogypsum for roadbuilding.

This is a major change in a discussion that has been occurring for decades as the phosphate industry has regularly pushed for approval to find a use for this waste that is now stored in massive stacks near fertilizer plants.

Phosphogypsum is slightly radioactive and contains trace amounts of a number of toxic elements such as arsenic and cadmium.

The change was announced in an Oct. 14 press release.

EPA’s earlier ban that dates to 1992 was based on a concern that if the material were used for a road and the road were abandoned and the land was later used for a homesite, residents might be exposed to the radiation through exposure to radon. Radon is a gas.

The revised rule prohibits the abandonment of the road to be used for another purpose, so it seems that issue is covered. There are other restrictions.

What constitutes a harmful exposure to radon has been the subject of decades of pushback from the phosphate industry toward EPA regulations, too.

That’s another issue to watch as agency heads under the Trump Administration are rushing to enact a bunch of rule changes as Trump’s term ends in case (we hope) he is not re-elected.

The EPA’s change of heart is reportedly linked to a study published by The Fertilizer Institute that was persuasive enough for an agency that probably didn’t need much persuading under the current regime.

The unanswered question is whether any bid specifications for local road projects will allow contractors to use this stuff instead of limerock for road base material.

According to the EPA press release, any roads built using phosphogypsum will require public notice.

This will be a developing saga.