Sierra Club has joined a national coalition of environmental organizations in seeking more oversight by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over phosphogypsum waste stacks in Florida and other states.
The waste, which is a byproduct of the mining and manufacturing related to fertilizer production. Is acidic and radioactive. In recent decades incidents at plants in Florida involving sinkholes or breaches in containment walls have resulted in potential aquifer contamination and disastrous releases into rivers and other surface waters that caused major wildlife deaths.
Specifically, the petition seeks to:
Reverse its 1991 regulatory determination that excludes phosphogypsum and process wastewater from hazardous waste regulations;
Govern the safe treatment, storage and disposal of phosphogypsum and process wastewater as hazardous wastes;
Initiate the process for designating phosphogypsum and process wastewater as high-priority substances for risk evaluation;
Require manufacturers to conduct testing on phosphogypsum and process wastewater; and
Determine that the use of phosphogypsum in road construction is a significant new use that requires a determination on whether it is safe.
The recent decision by the Trump Administration to reverse a decades-old ban on using this material for road building has drawn widespread criticism, though it’s unclear whether this was more than a public relations victory for fertilizer industry since there may be little demand from road-building agencies and contractors for the material, which some engineers consider inferior to traditional materials that pose no serious environmental threats.
The review of permits for these stacks was once covered under the state’s development of regional impact process, but this and other strong growth and environmental reviews have been weakened over the past decade by the Florida Legislature.